- 01 Mar 2020
"While the UK technically left Euratom on 31 January 2020, the transition period means that Euratom rules and arrangements will continue to apply until the end of the year.
There will be three key impacts when the UK is no longer subject to Euratom rules. Firstly, it will have more difficulty ensuring a long-term supply of nuclear fuel. Secondly, it risks an immediate shortage of medical isotopes. Finally, it may no longer enjoy access to research facilities and funding.
1. Reduced access to nuclear fuel
As a member of Euratom, the UK was part of co-operation agreements with eight other nations, including Australia, Kazakhstan and Canada. Between them they account for 71% of the world’s uranium production. When the UK is no longer subject to Euratom arrangements, it will break the guarantees that support supply chains from these producers to the UK.
Around 21% of the UK’s energy supply came from nuclear power in 2015, and the UK has no domestic sources of nuclear fuel. The UK government has made a long-term commitment to nuclear power in the form of the Hinkley Point C power station, although its wider civil nuclear strategy is unclear.
While the nuclear utilities should have enough fuel to cover the near term, the UK will need to forge new relationships with other nations to guarantee access to nuclear fuel in the long term.
2. Interruptions to the supply of medical isotopes
Leaving Euratom’s arrangements risks a series of time-sensitive supply chains which supply isotopes used in nuclear medicine. The UK does not have any reactors capable of producing these isotopes and because they decay rapidly – often within a matter of hours or days – hospitals in the UK must rely on a continuous supply from reactors in France, Belgium and the Netherlands.
Issues with these reactors precipitated a two-year crisis in the supply of several major medical isotopes between 2008 and 2010. Hospitals across Europe had to delay or cancel hundreds of thousands of medical tests.
In response to this, the Euratom Supply Agency was given a more prominent role in overseeing the supply chains of medical isotopes and ensuring that they are economically viable, stable and given due political importance.
Without the support of Euratom, the UK may find it harder to guarantee the supply of these materials to hospitals.
3. Reduced participation in cutting-edge nuclear research
A key area of Euratom activity is nuclear power research, particularly nuclear fusion. The UK’s departure from Euratom’s programmes could jeopardise access to both research funds and facilities, and make it more difficult for scientists and engineers working in these fields to come to the UK for employment." Haydon Etherington @instituteforgovernment.co.uk