A Commons Library briefing paper on EURATOM, the European Atomic Energy Community.Jump to full report >>
The UK became a member of the European Atomic Energy Community, better known as Euratom on 1 January 1973. In March 2017, the UK Government gave notice of its intention to leave Euratom as part of the Article 50 notification process.
During the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill debate on 13 December 2017, the Minister of State for Courts and Justice, Dominic Raab, said that the Government intended to set out a vision for close association with Euratom.
What is Euratom?
The European Atomic Energy Community, better known as Euratom, was established in the 1950s as part of the creation of the European Community. The UK became a member of both on 1 January 1973. Euratom provides the basis for the regulation of civilian nuclear activity, implements a system of safeguards to monitor the use of civil nuclear materials, controls the supply of fissile materials within EU member states and funds leading international research such as the Culham Centre of Fusion Energy in Oxfordshire.
The Government have said that Euratom and the EU are “uniquely legally joined” such that “triggering Article 50 therefore also entails giving notice to leave Euratom”. The legal basis of this point is debated.
The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee have recommended delaying the departure from Euratom to give the nuclear industry time to set up alternative arrangements.
The Government have said they wish to maintain a close relationship with Euratom after Brexit. The Energy Minister Richard Harrington told the BEIS Committee: “We have served notice on Euratom […] Therefore, we cannot stay in Euratom, but we wish to get the closest arrangements and agreement that we possibly can.” There has been speculation in the press that EU negotiators expect that the UK plans to opt to remain in Euratom.
Current operations, health, and research
Leaving Euratom has the potential to impact the UK’s current nuclear operations, including fuel supply, waste management, cooperation with other nuclear states, and research. Industry has warned of a “cliff edge” exit that could cause “major disruption to business across the whole nuclear fuel cycle.” The UK will likely need to take on a number of measures to leave Euratom, and some industry groups are concerned that the timetable for achieving these measures is ambitious. There is also concern that leaving Euratom could impact the UK’s ability to import radioisotopes for health treatments. However the Government say their availability should not be impacted by the UK’s exit from Euratom.
Euratom will continue regulating the UK nuclear industry until the exit from the EU. The UK hosts significant nuclear research work and current funding, such as that for the Culham Centre, will continue until 2018; future agreements will determine how the UK’s research work develops.
Nuclear Safeguards Bill 2017-19
The Nuclear Safeguards Bill 2017-19 makes provision for nuclear safeguards after the UK leaves Euratom. The Bill passed to Report on 14 November 2017 without amendment. The Library Briefing ‘Nuclear Safeguards Bill 2017-19’ has further detail. Other functions currently provided for by Euratom are not covered by this Bill.
Commons Briefing papers CBP-8036
Author: Suzanna Hinson