The draft Brexit agreement, which was released on 14 November, includes a provision that the UK will withdraw from the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom), despite concerns that it could damage the UK nuclear energy industry, in particular civil nuclear power production.
Within the document titled ‘Draft Agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community’, plans are set for the UK to leave the nuclear regulator when it leaves the European Union (EU).
The agreement states: “The [UK] shall have sole responsibility for ensuring that all ores, source materials and special fissile materials covered by the Euratom Treaty and present on the territory of the [UK] at the end of the transition period are handled in accordance with relevant and application international treaties and conventions, including but not limited to international treaties and conventions on nuclear safety.”
In December last year, Prime Minister Teresa May’s government promised that the UK would be responsible for maintaining international nuclear standards after Brexit and would make separate agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency to replace the current UK-Euratom arrangements.
The document also makes clear that at the end of the transition period, the UK will be responsible for reimbursing the EU for the value of any Euratom equipment, including special fissile material located at five nuclear power sites across the UK – namely Sellafield, Dounreay, Sizewell, Capenhurst and Springfields. Once the cost of the equipment is reimbursed, it will then become the property of the UK.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy parliamentary undersecretary Richard Harrington said in a foreword to the draft document: “Although we will be leaving Euratom, we remain firmly committed to the highest standards of nuclear safeguards and non-proliferation. The draft Nuclear Safeguards Regulations set out in this consultation are a concrete demonstration of this commitment.
“They will establish a new domestic safeguards regime for the UK that will provide coverage and effectiveness equivalent to that currently provided by Euratom and are the means by which we will exceed our international obligations.”
However, the agreement does not specify how the UK will remain involved in existing Euratom projects, including the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor project – the largest nuclear fusion experiment of its kind.
It is also uncertain whether the UK will continue to fund and run the Joint European Torus plasma physics project, based in Oxfordshire.
Technically, Euratom is an independent body in its own right, but all members of the European nuclear regulator must be EU member states. The agency is also subject to European law under the European Court of Justice.