'Total lack of clarity' over what will happen to UK's relationship with European nuclear body Euratom post-Brexit

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There is a total lack of clarity about the implications of our relationship with the European nuclear body Euratom as we prepare for Brexit.

The Government says Britain will leave the agency — which governs the movement of radioactive material in Europe — because although not part of the EU, it is under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

The NHS depends increasingly on nuclear materials. Radioactive isotopes are crucial for many clinical investigations, for example, diagnostic scanners, as well as for research.

Cancer patients in the UK will soon be faced with inadequate treatments. Many others will face increasingly inadequate diagnostic tests.

But it is not just British healthcare which is threatened. Euratom, operating under the International Atomic Energy Agency, also helps to ensure the safe transport of nuclear fuels and the storage and treatment of highly radioactive waste.

“The current arrangements — or rather lack of them — over our proposed exit from Europe will affect our power supplies and therefore the productivity of many industries. Nuclear power supplies nearly one-fifth of our electricity but we do not have enough nuclear fuels.

“We buy them, under Euratom’s regulation, from overseas. Even with nuclear power, our National Grid works with just a four per cent margin of capacity, which is further decreased in a very cold winter.

Euratom also finances a huge amount of nuclear energy research from which the UK directly benefits.

“Its budget of more than £1.5 billion contributes to at least 12 British projects, including our world-class research into nuclear fusion. Energy from fusion could make the most important contribution to the limitation of climate change.

The Government’s complacency is encapsulated by Lord Keen, one of its ministers, when he attempted to answer the concerns of many expert scientists in the House of Lords a few weeks ago. “This Government” he asserted “is never caught on the hop”. So was calling a general election merely an isolated aberration?

Professor Robert Winston is Professor of Science and Society and Emeritus Professor of Fertility Studies, Imperial College London.

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