Europe’s largest nuclear fusion reactor under threat from Brexit

The UK scientific community’s reaction to the result of Brexit was nothing short of vitriolic with many saying that their entire careers are under threat with the prospect that the millions of pounds that fund academic research in the country will be lost.

Now it is the turn of the UK Atomic Energy Authority to issue the stark warning that one of the country’s most advanced energy projects, the Joint European Torus (JET) nuclear fusion reactor, could be under threat by Brexit.

According to Sky News, UK politicians are stalling on trade agreements with the EU ahead of the split date of April 2019, and this could lead to significant legal barriers being put in place for the movement of parts and materials for anything to do with nuclear energy.

Under the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) agreement, a specialist market for the trade of nuclear power material through Europe was created, but the UK’s exit would grind all research, including JET, to a halt.

Speaking of what could happen, the chief of the UK Atomic Energy Authority, Prof Ian Chapman, warned: “Leaving Euratom is absolutely an existential threat for us as an organisation, about two thirds of my turnover comes from the European Commission.

“So we have to find a resolution so we can continue to do the world-class cutting-edge science that we do here.”

‘We are facing disruption to absolutely everything’

Outside of research, the existing nuclear fission industry is scrambling to prepare for life outside of Euratom by drawing up plans to relocate its nuclear materials and components to countries still signed up to the treaty.

In addition, it will turn to other trading partners such as the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand to form new trade agreements that abide by standards set out by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the Nuclear Industries Association did not hide his fears over the decision in saying: “If we haven’t got all that done then we are facing disruption to absolutely everything. 15 months to two years sounds like a lot of time, it’s not.”

While the UK plans to retire half of its fission plants by 2025, 21pc of the country’s power still comes from 15 reactors.

The UK’s biggest supplier of nuclear energy, EDF, added to this in claiming that by pulling out of Euratom it will have limited access to components, resulting in “extended outages” at its power stations.

The government however has dismissed such claims as “scaremongering”, but any new international agreements will need to be wrapped up fast before new UK bilateral deals can be issued and signed off by other countries across the world.

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