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Far reaching implications of UK leaving Euratom – the nuclear security and information agency

exclamation-flag-UKWe are heading for a senseless nuclear Brexit – with no political or legal mandate
Clare Moody Our nuclear energy, safety and research must not be subjugated to already chaotic Brexit negotiations – the government must put the national interest first
 Clare Moody is Labour MEP for South West England & Gibraltar. 3 February 2017

Last week we learned just how hard and how ill-conceived Brexit looks like being. The two line parliamentary bill published by the government last Thursday contained no detail, no plan, and no check or balance on the prime minister’s possible negotiation as it progresses.

One thing that was included, albeit buried in the explanation notes, is a brief reference to also ending Britain’s membership of Euratom – an entirely separate treaty. The implications of this will be deep and far-reaching for the future of UK’s energy supply, science, industry and workers. There is no political or legal mandate for the UK to leave Euratom, in fact it was barely even a footnote in the referendum campaign, and yet we are heading for a nuclear Brexit.

Euratom matters for the UK. Signed in 1957 as the European Atomic Energy Community, it is a separate treaty from the EU with the purpose of creating a single market for nuclear knowledge and resources in the peaceful pursuit of science and nuclear energy.

Whilst currently its only full members are EU countries, it is in fact a legally separate organisation to the EU. The UK is a leading member of Euratom, and plays host to one of its most important research institutions – the Joint European Torus (JET), based in Culham, Oxfordshire. JET is performing extraordinary and groundbreaking research in the pursuit of fusion energy, and is part of an EU-wide project to deliver on the vision of this revolutionary, safe and clean energy source. On the way, new technologies, materials and expertise are being developed here.

Euratom also provides safeguarding inspections for all civilian nuclear facilities in the UK, including Hinkley Point B, Sizewell and Torness in Scotland. It is the legal owner of all nuclear material, and is the legal purchaser, certifier and guarantor of any nuclear materials and technologies that the UK purchases. This includes our nuclear trade with the United States.

This means that 21% of the UK’s electricity generation is based on our membership of Euratom. It means that EDF can rely on secure supply chains for construction at Hinkley Point C and it is responsible for safeguarding inspections. Whether people are in favour of nuclear fission power or not we can all agree we want it to be as safe as possible, which is why leaving Euratom makes no sense.

Our own regulating authorities are not equipped to take over all of Euratom’s safeguarding work in the UK, and any British scientist will tell you that their work depends on international collaboration that is facilitated by this treaty.

Given this, it is hard to overstate the effect leaving Euratom will have on the UK –and the British people did not give the government a mandate to leave Euratom.

I think this is a bad decision, poorly thought out and with no explanation as to how our safety will be protected. The government must start at some point to put the national interest ahead of narrow party interest and Euratom would be a good place to start. Euratom is a separate treaty and the government should have the gumption to treat it as such – it requires separate and detailed negotiations. Our nuclear energy, safety and research must not be subjugated to the already chaotic wider Brexit negotiations.

February 3, 2017 - Posted by | safety, UK

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