UK seeks to quell fears over Euratom exit

28 February 2017

UK trade minister Liam Fox today reassured the country's international partners that it remains committed to its nuclear power program as it leaves the Euratom Treaty. The government announced last month the UK intends to leave the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) in explanatory notes to a bill it published authorising Brexit.

The peaceful use of nuclear energy within the EU is governed by the 1957 Euratom Treaty. The Euratom Community is a separate legal entity from the EU, but it is governed by the bloc's institutions. The Euratom framework includes nuclear cooperation agreements with third party countries, including Canada, Japan and the USA. It facilitates UK participation in long-term research and development projects, and it also provides a framework for international nuclear safeguard compliance.

Opening the Civil Nuclear Showcase in London, an event organised by his Department for International Trade, Fox said, "Some have suggested that the referendum result was a vote for insularity or that the UK will somehow be abandoning our international commitments. Nothing could be further from the truth.

"We may have voted to leave the EU but we are not withdrawing from the world. International trade has long been the lifeblood of the British economy and the driver of our prosperity. Commerce is part of our national DNA. Britain will always remain open to international investment, international partnership and a champion of free and open trade.

"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 that our withdrawal from the treaty will in no way diminish our nuclear ambitions. Our government is committed to delivering a world-beating nuclear program in close collaboration with our international counterparts.

"There will be challenges ahead but my department will support the nuclear industry every step of the way."

Tom Wintle, deputy director for small modular reactors, decommissioning and waste at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, said the nuclear industry would have a key part to play in making a success of the UK's future outside the EU.

Speaking at the SMR 2017 conference hosted by the UK's Nuclear Industry Association yesterday, Wintle said the decision to leave Euratom was a consequence of the UK's decision to leave the EU.

"Euratom uses the same institutions as the European Union, and the EU and Euratom are uniquely legally joined. This is understandably a cause of some uncertainty; however, I want to stress today that the UK supports Euratom and wants to see continuity of cooperation and standards in the future," he said.

Although the government had been "very clear" about the "absolute commitment" to maintaining nuclear safety standards and the desire to have a positive relationship with Euratom and international partners going forward, Wintle said it was too early to speculate on possible future scenarios. "But the aim is clear: we want to maintain mutually successful civil nuclear cooperation with Euratom and its international partners," he said.

Jonathan Leech, senior commercial and nuclear energy lawyer at Prospect Law, told WNN last month that, although the Euratom Community and the EU share the same institutions, the two never actually merged - the former has always had a separate legal character. Leech said there is therefore no need for the UK to exit Euratom in two years, "with all the harm that may do to the UK nuclear industry". There is an "entirely justifiable alternative", he said.

The UK voted in favour of Brexit in a national referendum held on 23 June last year. The Leave campaign won with 52% of the vote, against the Remain campaign with 48%. Prime Minister Theresa May has stated her government will begin the formal process of quitting the EU by the end of March.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News