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UK agonising over its nuclear industry future, leaving the Euratom Treaty, because of Brexit

What does the UK’s nuclear future look like?, 5 October 2018

Six months out from Brexit, how are those involved with the UK’s nuclear sector viewing the prospect?

The area around the Sellafield nuclear plant in Cumbria is the heartland of the UK’s nuclear industry…….. The word that sums up what everyone told us is “uncertainty”, but a particular kind of uncertainty, grounded in the history of this industry.

Months after Calder Hall opened, the Euratom Treaty established the European Atomic Energy Community. The UK did not formally join straight away but did have a relationship with it.

Euratom oversees nuclear research, sets the rules on where nuclear material is and how it is moved around. It knows, for instance, exactly how much spent uranium is in a storage pond at Sellafield.

But the government has decided leaving the European Union means leaving Euratom, and that is likely to mean potentially huge changes to the way nuclear businesses operate.

Mr Coughlan fears losing out on nuclear decommissioning orders from elsewhere in Europe, especially from Germany and Sweden.

“Once we are out, and no longer part of Euratom, it means we will not be able to participate in those markets,” he says. “The negotiations have been pretty disastrous for the UK,” says Sue Ferns, deputy general secretary of the Prospect trade union, who adds that current “uncertainty” over Brexit negotiations is damaging.

It’s that word again.

So, given such concern, why is the UK leaving Euratom?

After all, former government adviser Dominic Cummings, a leading advocate of Brexit, has described ministers as “morons” for advocating withdrawal from the organisation.

The House of Lords also tried to force the government to keep the UK in Euratom.

The crux of the government’s opposition is the way Euratom itself is overseen by the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The prime minister insists this cannot happen – the UK cannot be subject to the decisions of a foreign court.

The government argues a central driving motivation for Leave voters was the desire to, as the slogan put it, “take back control”, meaning there can be no role for the ECJ.

Instead, ministers say, they will reach alternative arrangements with the EU, and have speeded up arriving at nuclear co-operation agreements with other countries worldwide.

But what do those who work for Euratom have to say about this big change?

Dame Sue Ion, who chairs Euratom’s Science and Technology Committee, says the UK has a lot of world-class expertise and creating new post-Brexit arrangements has meant a huge extra burden of unnecessary work.

She feels that ministers must “keep their foot on the gas pedal” to ensure international nuclear co-operation agreements after Brexit are as broad-based as possible.

The government has set out its plans for the nuclear sector in the event of no deal with the EU. A law has already been passed so that the Office for Nuclear Regulation in the UK, which already exists, could oversee “domestic safeguards” instead of Euratom. New agreements have also been signed with the International Atomic Energy Agency to replace the existing agreements between it, Euratom and the UK.

We also know that in the event of no deal, Euratom would no longer own special fissile material in the UK, with ownership transferring to the operators……….


October 8, 2018 - Posted by | politics, politics international, UK

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