UK nuclear operator warns of plant outages if Brexit mismanaged

LONDON (Reuters) - EDF,, the French utility that runs Britain’s nuclear reactors, said on Wednesday power plants could suffer extended outages if a new safeguard regime and other measures were not in place when Britain exits the European Union in 2019.

FILE PHOTO: Hinkley Point C nuclear power station site near Bridgwater in Britain, September 14, 2016. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth/File Photo

The regulation chief for EDF’s British unit, EDF Energy, also said construction of Hinkley Point C - the first nuclear plant to be built in Britain for more than 20 years - would be delayed unless Britain had a new regulatory regime to replace the EU’s.

Angela Hepworth was speaking at a parliamentary hearing on the impact of Brexit on Britain’s energy security.

Her comments illustrate the challenges faced by London as it attempts to disentangle itself from decades of EU regulations, treaties and institutions.

In the nuclear industry, the race is on for the government to replicate strict oversight of the industry and strike deals with other countries or concoct a transition agreement, in time for Britain’s withdrawal from the union in March 2019.

When it exits the EU, Britain also leaves Euratom, which oversees nuclear safety and has deals with states with nuclear expertise such as the United States, Canada and Japan to enable the transfer of fuel and components. It also funds research.

“If we fail to have a safeguard regime in place and if we fail to have nuclear cooperation agreements in place from key third countries, we wouldn’t be able to share nuclear components,” Hepworth told a committee in the House of Lords, Britain’s upper house of parliament.

“If we had a component fail in one of our power stations and we needed to import a part from one of those countries ... then it might be the case that we would have extended outages at our facilities or we would end up with plants out of operation.”

Industry experts say not only does Britain need a new safety regime staffed and implemented, but that regime needs to be approved by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) before the country can strike deals with other nations to transfer components, staff and expertise.

Negotiators are still in the first phase of talks with Europe on terms for leaving Euratom and, similar to broader ministerial-level EU talks, the negotiations need to show significant progress before moving to further stages.

Jenifer Baxter, the head of energy at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said Nuclear Cooperation Agreements needed approval from third countries, adding further pressure to the timetable. Securing U.S. approval needed the backing of the president, a committee and congress.

The British government has said it would like to retain the “closest possible nuclear cooperation” with the EU.

EDF Energy operates all 15 nuclear reactors in Britain and construction of its 20 billion pound Hinkley Point C power station has already been beset by delays and rising costs.

Reporting by Sabina Zawadzki; Editing by Edmund Blair