Torness nuclear power station

Warning UK's nuclear power stations could be forced to close after Brexit

Image credit: Dreamstime

Nuclear plants in England, Scotland and Wales could be forced to shut down if transitional arrangements on atomic power are not in place by 2019, an expert has warned.

Rupert Cowen, a nuclear energy specialist at the law firm Prospect Law, today warned politicians investigating energy policy in the UK that cross-Channel trade in nuclear fuel could cease after Britain splits from Euratom.

Plans for the next generation of reactors, such as the new Hinkley Point plant, could be placed in jeopardy, he added.

But he stressed that, in his view, quitting the regulatory organisation established in the 1950s to create a market for nuclear power in Europe was a political choice rather than a necessity.

Cowen told MPs, “Those that are building the nuclear power stations want to be certain they can get their components. They want to be certain they can get their personnel. They want to be certain they can get their fuel in future. When we come out of Euratom, if we haven’t succeeded in agreeing transitional arrangements, we will not be able to do any of those things.”

Speaking as a guest of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, the lawyer said, “If we can’t arrive at safeguards and other principles that allow compliance to be demonstrated, no nuclear trade will be able to continue.”

Though separate from the European Union, Euratom is governed by the bloc’s institutions - including the politically contentious European Court of Justice.

Tom Greatrex, from the Nuclear Industry Association, warned of a “cliff edge” resulting from exiting the organisation at the same time as Article 50 - the official notice of Britain's decision to leave the EU - is expected to take effect in 2019.

When pressed by Conservative MP Richard Fuller about potential positives to quitting Euratom, David Senior from the Office for Nuclear Regulation cited a likely reduction in bureaucracy.

At the same time as the evidence session was taking place in Parliament, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox sought to quell fears among industry figures attending the Civil Nuclear Showcase event in Kensington.

In a speech to delegates, the prominent Brexiteer declared, “It is true that, in leaving the European Union, Britain will also be leaving Euratom.

“Though our exact relationship with Euratom will be subject to negotiations with EU partners, I want to reassure you - our withdrawal from the Euratom Treaty will in no way diminish our nuclear ambitions.

“This government is firmly committed to delivering a world-leading nuclear programme in close collaboration with our international counterparts.”

If the UK does proceed with exiting Euratom it could also have consequences for radiotherapy for cancer patients, since Britain imports all the radioactive medical isotopes used to treat many tumours.

Currently, Euratom members must also sign up to some agreements regarding freedom of movement for people working in the industry.

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