We are told almost nothing. The Conservative Party Manifesto does not mention Britain’s exit from European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom), which must automatically take place in conjunction with Brexit.
There is no outline of how the UK will seek to replace this arrangement, or what the emergency plan might be if we crash out of the system with no treaty access to nuclear fuel, services, and research.
Warnings from nuclear specialists have been stark: if Britain has not locked in an alternative treaty structure or transition accord by March 2019, it will be cut adrift from the global nuclear industry. Nobody will be allowed to deal with us.
“Euratom has ownership over all nuclear materials in the EU. It oversees all supply. Without this we cannot move anything at all between third parties,” said Dame Sue Ion, chairman of the Nuclear Innovation and Research Advisory Board.
“This covers all components in the nuclear world, and that includes anything you need to build Hinkley Point,” she said.
The UK ceded treaty control over its nuclear industry to Euratom when the country joined the EU, just as it ceded treaty control over trade deals. The agency’s staff – many of them British – carry out all our inspections. They have permanent operations at Sellafield.
These powers can be repatriated but doing so does not restore Britain to the legal status quo ante. The UK would then be in limbo. It would have to negotiate 18 fresh treaty agreements with the US, Japan, Korea, Kazakhstan and other states.
Some doomsday warnings are clearly hyperbole. Britain will not run out of nuclear fuel the day after leaving Euratom. There has been a glut of the raw material – ‘yellow cake’ – ever since Japan shut most of its reactors after Fukushima. It can be imported in advance and stockpiled with a little effort. “The whole world is desperate to sell us the stuff, so that argument is just nonsense,” said Ian Scott, founder of the nuclear group Moltex.