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MPs: Euratom exit could delay Hinkley construction

Hinkley Point C, Nuclear

Construction of Hinkley Point C could face “severe” delays due to skills shortages and import issues after the UK leaves European nuclear body Euratom as part of the Brexit process, MPs have warned.

The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee said leaving Euratom in March 2019 could lead to delays at the Somerset nuclear new build project, which counts one tenth of its 2,500-strong workforce as non-UK nationals.

Eurotom establishes a single market for the trade in nuclear materials and technology as well as allowing movement of skills and capital - but the UK government confirmed earlier this year its intention to depart the body as well as the EU.

Evidence suggested there could be major issues following the switch, including “delays to the construction of new nuclear power stations, including Hinkley Point C, due to lack of construction workers and an inabilty to import components” said the MPs.

Existing power stations could experience shutdowns due to problems importing fuel, the committee warned in a report published this morning. At the moment, 21% of the UK’s power comes from nuclear energy. All planned new nuclear builds are being financed or developed by foreign companies.

Although the government has pledged to implement safeguarding policies very similar to Euratom’s to ensure smooth trade, the committee said this would be difficult to put in place by March 2019.

“No-one has advocated to us - or identified any significant advantages of - leaving Euratom,” said the committee.

“It is a wholly unwanted and potentially unintended consequence of our leaving the EU. The impact on the UK civil nuclear sector of leaving Euratom will be profound.”

Meanwhile in a seperate report called Nuclear Power: A Future Pathway for the UK, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMECH) said nuclear construction skills should be put on the government’s shortage occupation list, boosting the chances of firms hiring experienced staff from abroad.

It added that the nuclear approvals processes should be simplified to help the UK become world leaders in small modular reactor (SMR) technology by making it easier and quicker to develop proposals.

IMECH energy and environment head Jenifer Baxter said: “SMRs present a lower cost option, with comparatively straightforward construction and, potentially, a more attractive investment proposition than conventional larger scale nuclear plants.

“It is also vital that as the UK prepares to leave the EU that nuclear construction skills are added to the shortage occupation list ― which would allow experienced workers from oversees to enter the UK.”

Last week the government announced a raft of new measures backing UK nuclear, including £56M for SMR development and £86M for a fusion research programme in Oxfordshire, on the same site that currently houses the Euratom-run JET fusion research programme.

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