Former energy minister Sir Ed Davey has warned that the UK could find itself barred from importing fuel for its nuclear power stations following its withdrawal from Euratom.
It was revealed in January that the UK will leave Euratom as it exists the EU. However, membership of Euratom is necessary for the legal trade of nuclear fuels.
“As soon as you come out of Euratom it would be illegal for the French to export fuel for the plants that EDF own and run [in the UK] i.e all of our nuclear plants at the moment,” Davey told Utility Week.
Due to constraints on the storage of nuclear fuel and the long lead time required to order fuel – around 36 months – Davey added: “If we are out of Euratom, there is going to be a period – possibly two years – when we run out of fuel for our nuclear power stations which in the early or mid-2020s is going to be about 20 per cent of our power supply”.
Davey described the government’s decision to withdraw from Euratom as “extraordinarily stupid” and an “own goal” because it will simultaneously “imperil” the UK’s nuclear industry, “threaten to turn the lights out” and undermine the UK’s negotiating position during Brexit negotiations.
“We have given the European Union a stick to beat us with,” he said.
Government has argued that continued membership of Euratom would be incompatible with Brexit. However, Davey insisted this was “simply untrue”. Legal experts have assured him that it would be “perfectly possible” for a non-EU member state to remain within the nuclear group.
Davey’s views are shared by shadow energy minister and shadow secretary for international trade Barry Gardiner.
Gardiner informed Utility Week that “the idea that we have to pull of Euratom is completely insane”.
He pointed out that the UK’s membership of the group predates the EU and that continued membership would not, therefore, be incompatible with an EU exit.
When government announced its intention to withdraw from Euratom alongside its Article 50 bill, Nuclear Industry Association chief executive Tom Greatrex said: “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.”