UK to withdraw from European nuclear alliance

The UK will leave the European Atomic Energy Community when it exits the European Union, the government has confirmed.

Plans to withdraw from the nuclear industry organisation, known as Euratom, were revealed in explanatory notes published alongside the bill giving the government the power to trigger article 50.

The news has dissapointed industry representatives in the UK. 

Nuclear Industry Association chief executive Tom Greatrex said: “The UK nuclear industry has made it crystal clear to the Government before and since the referendum that our preferred position is to maintain membership of Euratom. The nuclear industry is global, so the ease of movement of nuclear goods, people and services enables new build, decommissioning, R&D and other programmes of work to continue without interruption.”

However, Greatrex added that “if the UK ceases to be part of Euratom, then it is vital the Government agree transitional arrangements, to give the UK time to negotiate and complete new agreements with EU member states and third countries including the US, Japan and Canada who have Nuclear Cooperation Agreements within the Euratom framework.”

He stressed that the UK “should remain a member of Euratom until these arrangements are put in place.”

Following the publication of the Article 50 bill, a government spokesperson justified the decision to leave Euratom. 

“Leaving Euratom is a result of the decision to leave the EU as they are uniquely legally joined,” they said. “The UK supports Euratom and will want to see continuity of co-operation and standards. We remain absolutely committed to the highest standards of nuclear safety, safeguards and support for the industry.”

The spokesperson added: “Our aim is clear: we want to maintain our mutually successful civil nuclear co-operation with the EU.”

Euratom was established alongside the European Economic Community in 1957. Its functions include promoting and coordinating nuclear research, establishing and funding joint research projects, setting uniform safety standards and ensuring all members have access to secure supplies of nuclear fuel. Although it is a separate legal entity from the EU, it is governed by the EU’s institutions.

The plans to withdraw from the alliance leave a question mark over the future of the Joint European Taurus (JET) located at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy (CCFE) in Oxfordshire. The experimental reactor is the “flagship” of the Eurofusion consortium which manages nuclear fusion research on behalf of Euratom.

Since 2014 JET has been operated under a €283 million between the European Commission and CCFE. The contract, which is considered an ‘in kind’ payment to Eurofusion, covers the reactors operation until 2018.

The UK Atomic Energy Authority, which owns and operates CCFE, has reportedly said decommissioning the reactor is expected to leave around 3,000 cubic metres of radioactive waste, which would cost around £289 million to deal with.