The UK nuclear industry is facing a huge amount of uncertainty following the government's announcement that it will withdraw from the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom), which governs the EU's nuclear sector. Euratom is a pillar of the legal framework for nuclear power generation in the UK and the movement of nuclear materials, and the country's departure from the treaty, or 'Brexatom', risks significant disruption to its power sector.
In this video, Oliver Adelman, S&P Global Platts managing editor for nuclear publications, focuses on the purpose of the Euratom Treaty, the impact of Brexatom, and the UK's search for alternative arrangements.
Brexatom: Impact of UK departure from European Atomic Energy Community
By Oliver Adelman, S&P Global Platts managing editor for nuclear publications
Welcome to The Snapshot – our series which examines the forces shaping and driving global commodities markets today. The UK nuclear industry is facing a huge amount of uncertainty following the government’s announcement that it will withdraw from a little known treaty governing the European nuclear sector.
Purpose of the Euratom Treaty
The European Atomic Energy Community, or Euratom, was founded in 1957. It is a pillar of the legal framework for nuclear power generation in the UK and the movement of nuclear materials, including nuclear fuel and radioactive materials for medicine.
While a preliminary agreement on the UK’s EU withdrawal concluded December 8 may help efforts to establish a transition arrangement for the country’s departure from Euratom, the risk of significant disruption to the power sector from so-called Brexatom remains.
Following the UK’s referendum vote to leave the European Union in June 2016, the UK government announced that the country would also be leaving Euratom as well, although technically the EU and Euratom are separate entities.
The UK government did not give a specific reason for “Brexatom,” but analysts have said that continuing membership of Euratom is not compatible with the government’s interpretation of the EU referendum result as meaning that the UK should no longer be under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, which oversees the Euratom Treaty.
Impact of Brexatom
Brexatom could have profound consequences for the energy market. If a successor arrangement is not in place prior to the UK’s March 2019 departure from Euratom, a significant proportion of the UK’s nuclear power stations could grind to a halt, as the uranium for fabrication of the nuclear fuel that fires the plants will not be allowed into the country.
In addition, the movement of parts and equipment for the upgrade of existing nuclear plants and the construction of new nuclear plants, such as EDF Energy’s Hinkley Point C, will also be prohibited.
The Search for Alternative Arrangements
Trade body the Nuclear Industry Association UK has lobbied for transitional arrangements that would extend the UK’s membership of Euratom. The UK government has also introduced a Nuclear Safeguards Bill that would cover some of the areas currently under the Euratom Treaty, but this legislation will not solve all the problems raised by Brexatom.
As March 2019 fast approaches, an increasingly worried UK nuclear industry fears that it will pay the price for what some in the sector consider to be the government’s overzealous interpretation of the referendum vote.
Until next time on the Snapshot - we’ll be keeping an eye on the markets.