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Nuclear safeguards are measures to verify that countries comply with their international obligations not to use nuclear materials for nuclear weapons.

Safeguards were introduced as part of the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons where the nuclear weapon states (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) undertook not to transfer nuclear weapons or support manufacture or acquisition of weapons by non‐nuclear weapon states. As a result, non-nuclear weapons states undertook to have international monitoring of their nuclear material by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA – a United Nations affiliated organisation) and nuclear weapons states voluntarily accepted the same monitoring.

The UK joined the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) in 1973. Since then, the UK’s agreements for safeguard monitoring with the IAEA have been fundamentally underpinned by the UK’s membership of Euratom. One of Euratom’s roles is to implement safeguards on nuclear material across Euratom member states.

The European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017 received Royal Assent on 16 March 2017. On 29 March 2017, the Prime Minister gave notification of the withdrawal of the UK from the EU and from Euratom under section 1(1) of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017.

The Nuclear Safeguards Bill 2017-19 (referred to in this paper as ‘the Bill’) was presented to Parliament on 11 October 2017 and makes provision for nuclear safeguards after the UK leaves Euratom.

This Bill would allow the Government to make regulations for, and implement international agreements in relation to, nuclear safeguarding. This is required once the UK leaves Euratom. The Bill does not set out what the regulations will look like but does include a duty to consult the UK’s Office for Nuclear Regulation. Pre-consultation draft regulations were published in January 2018. The new regulations will initially be subject to the affirmative procedure in both Houses, but later amendments will not unless they meet certain conditions. The Bill also allows existing legislation to be amended by regulation in relation to the UK’s withdrawal from Euratom. The Bill extends to the whole of the UK.

The Bill does not cover other aspects of the UK’s relationship with Euratom, such as research funding.

This Briefing Paper discusses the background to the Bill, the content of the Bill, and contains some comment on the Bill.

The Bill was amended at report stage in the House of Lords on 20 March 2018 by the Government and Opposition. On 8 May, the Commons replaced a Lords amendment with a similar Government amendment. The Bill received Royal Assent on 26 June 2018 and became the Nuclear Safeguards Act 2018.

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