Nuclear research and technology: Breaking the cycle of indecision Contents

Chapter 6: Euratom

Exiting Euratom

125.The European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) is an international organisation founded in 1957 with the purpose of creating a specialist market for nuclear power in Europe, developing nuclear energy and distributing it to its member states while selling the surplus to non-member states. The Euratom Treaty143 provides the legal framework for civil nuclear power generation and radioactive waste management for members of the Euratom Community, all of whom are EU Member States.144

126.Following on from the EU referendum result, on 2 February 2017 the Government published a White Paper, The United Kingdom’s exit from and new partnership with the European Union.145 This stated that when the Government triggered Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union, the UK would leave Euratom as well as the EU:

“Although Euratom was established in a treaty separate to EU agreements and treaties, it uses the same institutions as the EU including the Commission, Council of Ministers and the Court of Justice. The European Union (Amendment) Act 2008 makes clear that, in UK law, references to the EU include Euratom. The Euratom Treaty imports Article 50 into its provisions.”146

127.The Government stressed repeatedly in the period after the publication of the White Paper that, whilst as a consequence of leaving the EU the UK would leave Euratom, the Government was “committed to maintaining the highest standards of nuclear safety and safeguards” and that its aim was “to maintain our mutually successful civil nuclear co-operation with Euratom.”147

128.Mr Norman told us that leaving Euratom was “a regrettable necessity from our point of view”.148 Lord Hutton accepted, “the Government’s argument that we have no choice in this context, given that we have made a decision to leave [the EU], because these two treaties have become so closely bound up together it would be perverse to leave the European Union but still find ourselves with membership of the Council of Ministers and seats in the European Parliament and all the other things that go with membership of the European Union.”149

129.Some legal experts however have questioned whether the UK must leave Euratom as a direct result of leaving the EU. According to the Telegraph, a partner at a law firm which advises EDF Energy said that, “The balance of legal opinion is that it’s not legally necessary to exit Euratom in order to leave the EU.”150

130.On 29 March 2017 the Prime Minister, the Rt Hon Theresa May MP, wrote to the President of the European Council, His Excellency Mr Donald Tusk, to notify the European Council of the UK’s intention to withdraw from the EU. In the letter she explained that in accordance with Article 50(2) as applied by Article 106a of the Treaty Establishing the European Atomic Energy Community, she was also notifying the Council of the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from Euratom.151

Benefits of Euratom membership

131.Dame Sue Ion told us that the important elements of the Euratom treaty were the arrangements for the monitoring and the looking after of nuclear materials and the arrangements under the Euratom Supply Agency.152 She also said that Euratom membership had enabled “us to move the best intellectual talent around Europe very freely and easily, which maintains quality as well as capacity.”153

132.The NNL told us that one of the main benefits of membership of Euratom was the UK’s access to and influence on the EU R&D agenda and priorities.154

133.Professor Ian Chapman, Chief Executive of UKAEA, summarised the three main benefits that membership of Euratom brought to his organisation:

Disadvantages of leaving Euratom

134.A number of our witnesses told us that leaving Euratom could have a negative impact on the UK nuclear industry. Professor Burke said it was “disheartening that the Government are going to withdraw from Euratom, … It will be a negative on our research environment.”156 Prospect, a trade union that represents workers in the nuclear industry, told us that the “decision [to leave Euratom] is ill-informed, irresponsible and unnecessary. It will have significant implications for the nuclear industry and the research and technology that supports it.”157 The Dalton Nuclear Institute claimed that by leaving Euratom, “the UK will fundamentally change its relationship with what is probably its main vehicle for participation in global nuclear research and risks irreversible damage to the UK research community.”158

135.Dr Bluck pointed out that leaving Euratom would have an impact “on the transport of [nuclear waste] materials. …. There will be facilities that we do not have, and that may involve the transportation of materials to and from facilities in Europe”.159

136.Dr Rebecca Weston, Technical Director at Sellafield Ltd, said that leaving Euratom would have a significant impact on nuclear materials accountancy (the independent verification of special nuclear materials) and nuclear proliferation safeguards. She explained that the requirement for third-party assurance to overseas customers was currently discharged through Euratom. Any replacement system would take time and money to put in place.160

137.Dame Sue Ion told the House of Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee that the Euratom treaty made the supply, exchange and transfer of nuclear materials across borders easy and that:

“The nuclear co-operation agreements that exist are vital to international trade. From a research angle, the radioactive materials that are used in research in medicine etc. are all covered by the EURATOM agreement. Movement of the best intellectual talent within Europe is made easy by the treaty. Access to the very high-cost facilities that are not within the UK but which UK researchers use on a daily basis is also important, as is leverage for funding of what would otherwise be very expensive projects.”161

Moving forward

138.Mr Norman told us in regard to membership of Euratom that the Government was actively working on alternative arrangements and that “There are clear routes forward, from our point of view, which would allow us to continue to deal in the same way with the issues of safety, safeguarding and trade, et cetera, that Euratom preserves. … we are devoting significant resources to maintaining and, potentially, even enhancing some of the benefits that we currently achieve from it.”162

139.We asked our witnesses how the UK should seek to replace its membership of Euratom. Lord Hutton stressed the importance of avoiding a “cliff edge”—that is, the UK’s membership of Euratom coming to an end without a alternative arrangements having been put in place.163 He explained that this would mean that the UK could not go on trading in nuclear goods and services because it would be outwith the internationally recognised framework of nuclear safeguards.164

140.With regards to research and development, Lord Hutton favoured consideration of associate membership status but pointed out that this would not replicate the full spectrum of benefits that the UK receives from Euratom membership.165 Prof Chapman, whilst not specifying what he thought the best deal for the UK would be, stressed the importance of finding a way to sustain the benefits of Euratom membership. He said there was a panoply of options from “associate membership to the UK funding all of this independently, still having open doors and collaborating openly”.166 Both Prof Chapman and Lord Hutton emphasised the importance of an early decision on the UK’s future relationship with Euratom.167

141.Dame Sue Ion said it was important that arrangements were put in place to ensure “that the UK’s world-class expertise in fusion is maintained going forward. Our companies have had access to very lucrative contracts coming from the fusion side and we must make sure that our expertise, as a nation, is still able to be deployed in that.”168

142.Lord Hutton told us that he had written to The Rt Hon Greg Clark MP, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, asking him to set up a task force with industry and government to plan for the UK’s withdrawal from Euratom.169 Similarly Dr Weston and Prof Chapman said that their organisations were keen to work with the Government to understand and develop the UK position.170

143.We note the Minister’s reassurances that the Government is devoting significant resources to maintaining and, potentially, even enhancing some of the benefits that the UK currently achieves from membership of Euratom. We echo Lord Hutton’s suggestion that the Government should convene a working group of industry and government representatives to develop a plan to preserve the essential benefits of Euratom.

144.There is a real urgency for Government action on this. The UK’s membership of Euratom must not be allowed to expire without a suitable replacement being in place. Such an eventuality would put the UK at risk of losing its lead in fusion research and in effect throw away decades of research. Furthermore it would put the UK at risk of losing access to the markets and skills it needs to construct new nuclear power plants and may leave existing stations unable to acquire fuel.

143 Treaty establishing the European Atomic Energy Community, OJ C 327/1 (consolidated version of 26 October 2012)

144 In addition, Switzerland has been an “Associated State” since 2014 and Euratom has cooperation agreements with 8 “third countries”: USA, Japan, Canada, Australia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and South Africa.

145 Department for Exiting the European Union, The United Kingdom’s exit from and new partnership with the European Union, Cm 9417, 2 February 2017: [accessed 20 March 2017]

146 Ibid.

147 HL Deb, 1 March 2017, col 876

148 Q 37 (Jesse Norman MP)

149 Q 59 (Lord Hutton of Furness)

150 ‘Hinkley advisers raise questions over Euratom exit plans as ‘legal own goal’’, The Telegraph (7 March 2017):[accessed 3 April 2017]

151 Letter from Rt Hon Theresa May MP to European Council President Donald Tusk, 29 March 2017: [accessed 25 April 2017]

152 The Euratom Supply Agency was established under the Euratom Treaty to ensure a regular and equitable supply of nuclear fuels to EU users. To perform this task, ESA applies a supply policy based on the principle of equal access of all users to ores and nuclear fuel.

153 Q 59 (Dame Sue Ion)

154 Written evidence from the NNL (PNT0046)

155 Q 49 (Prof Ian Chapman)

156 Q 8 (Prof Grace Burke)

157 Written evidence from Prospect (PNT0019)

158 Written evidence from the Dalton Nuclear Institute, University of Manchester (PNT0018)

159 Q 8 (Dr Michael Bluck)

160 Q 10 (Dr Rebecca Weston)

161 Oral evidence taken before the House of Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, 28 February 2017 (Session 2016–17), Q114 (Dame Sue Ion)

162 Q 37 (Jesse Norman MP)

163 Q 59 (Lord Hutton of Furness)

164 Ibid.

165 Q 59 (Lord Hutton of Furness)

166 Q 49 (Prof Ian Chapman)

167 Q 49 (Prof Ian Chapman) and Q 59 (Lord Hutton of Furness)

168 Q 59 (Dame Sue Ion)

169 Q 59 (Lord Hutton of Furness)

170 Q 19 (Dr Rebecca Weston) and Q 49 (Prof Ian Chapman)

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