The UK’S nuclear power sector is under severe pressure to respond to the country’s decision to exit the EU and the Euratom treaty.

Professor Ian Chapman chief of the UK Atomic Energy Authority told Sky News today that Brexit represented an existential threat to the prospects of the sector, as the industry must now speedily make new arrangements ahead of the parting from Europe in 2019.

The industry is activating plans to relocate nuclear material and components around Europe, and draw up alternatives to the existing arrangements it has had as part of the EU for decades.
Brexit graphic
Executives are also planning for potential legal barriers to the highly controlled movement of nuclear parts and materials into and out of the United Kingdom after Brexit. Leading figures speaking privately to Sky News have complained of “no visibility” that full arrangements will be in place by 2019 to replace existing arrangements under the Euratom nuclear safety treaty and related third country treaties – and are “planning for a world where that doesn’t happen”.

Meanwhile the news station also revealed that Conservative MPs are planning a rebellion on Euratom by backing a new amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill, stalling leaving the treaty (which is separate from the EU), until the Government reports on how it will replace every existing nuclear relationship.

Because of the decision taken by the government to depart Euratom, which is separate from the EU, the industry is in a race against time to set up a domestic safeguards arrangement accredited by the International Atomic Energy Agency, a replacement arrangement with Europe, and a series of bilateral deals to replace Euratom’s arrangements with key nuclear partners such as the US, Japan, Canada and Australia.

Talks to accredit this new domestic arrangement with the IAEA are far from complete, say industry insiders, and need to be finished before a range of new UK bilateral deals can be negotiated and then ratified in legislatures across the globe, including in the US Congress and by President Donald Trump.

“If we haven’t got all that done then we are facing disruption to absolutely everything,” says Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the Nuclear Industries Association. “Fifteen months to two years sounds like a lot of time. It’s not. The clock is ticking and it has been since the referendum and we’ve made very little progress so far.”

The most immediate challenge comes to the high tech nuclear fusion research centre in Oxfordshire, the Joint European Torus, as it is no longer clear if the UK will continue to host the EU-funded project.

Professor Ian Chapman chief of the UK Atomic Energy Authority told Sky News: “Leaving Euratom is absolutely an existential threat for us as an organisation, about two thirds of my turnover comes from the European Commission. So we have to find a resolution so we can continue to do the world-class cutting-edge science that we do here.”

EDF energy, the country’s biggest generator of nuclear energy, is warning that a failure to be able to source components could lead to “extended outages” at its power stations.