Does Britain face a Brexit blackout?

Since the government confirmed that it wants Britain to leave Euratom as well as the EU, there has been alarm over what this means for the UK’s energy supply. Leaving Euratom adds to an already problematic situation regarding traditional and renewable energy sources that arises if we leave the EU.

The UK has been on the brink of an energy crisis for over 10 years. In December we were warned by Ofgem that soon a reliable supply of energy will be a luxury only for households with the right money.

Whoever forms the next government needs to take swift action to counter the effect of Brexit on the UK energy supply, to ensure that no household is at risk of losing power.

The impact of Brexit on Euratom has not been thought through. The government has failed to consider the potentially severe ramifications of its Brexit objectives for the nuclear industry.”

– Iain Wright MP, Chair of Commons business, energy and industrial strategy committee.

Nuclear Energy

Euratom is a 60 year old agreement that regulates the non-military nuclear industry. As well as setting standards for security and safety, preventing nuclear materials being diverted to military uses and having its own research programme, it established rules for a common market for the free movement of nuclear professionals, equipment and materials.

Leaving Euratom means leaving this common market. Unless Britain negotiates a new nuclear agreement (and ensures a transitional deal until we are able to do so), we will lose easy access to supplies, and we will no longer be covered by the world-level non-proliferation supervision arrangements applied in Europe via Euratom. We risk nothing less than the sudden closure of our nuclear power stations.

Furthermore, we will also need to negotiate Nuclear Cooperation Agreements with US, Japan and Australia as our agreements with these countries are based on our membership of Euratom.

Fusion

Without the drawbacks of nuclear fission (on which the traditional nuclear industry is based) and with no carbon emissions, fusion energy is a vital area of research at the moment.

The Joint European Torus (JET) programme in Oxford currently works on the development of fusion technology, and is the only laboratory capable of using optimal fuels, holding the world record for the most fusion power produced.

However, the European Commission currently funds two thirds of the total amount that the UK Atomic Energy Authority receives for JET. Furthermore, it’s possible that with Brexit, the UK could be left out of ITER, a joint programme between the EU, the US and Japan.

We would cease to be part of what is potentially the biggest long term solution to our energy problems.

Interconnectors

On top of connecting grids in the UK, interconnectors are able to connect grids between countries, allowing surpluses to flow back and forth to iron out fluctuations in demand and supply (especially important given the intermittent nature of some renewable energies, such as wind power). They have the potential to provide the UK with the equivalent of a large nuclear power station at a fraction of the cost and are important for energy security, resistance, reducing redundancy and costs, and selling surplus electricity.

Linking the grids between two countries, especially two in different time zones, is incredibly useful, as it allows the energy to flow to where it is most needed.

There are six different projects currently in the works, all between the UK and other EU countries. The government must work hard to ensure that they are not jeopardised by Brexit, which is not just a matter of not alienating our partners, but also of accepting the regulatory regime that allows this (largely EU rules, with the ECJ settling any disputes about what those rules mean).

Other factors

Of course, there are many other ways Britain’s energy is at risk, from the future of biomass being uncertain due to the post-referendum fall in the value of the pound, to the risk of EU green energy directives being scrapped once the great repeal bill gets passed. The latter apply agreed standards for improving things such as fuel quality, insulation of new buildings, recycling, smart metering and much more. Dropping out of EU standards, which are world leading, would help neither our environment nor our competitiveness.

We must ensure these policies remain part of the UK policy if we leave the EU, that clean energy projects continue to get funding, and that we do not leave Euratom.

2 Comments

  1. Thank you for this Richard. It is clear that a simple referendum and the response of the government has led to major issues that were not considered by those advocating leave. It beggars belief that the government believes that the decision to leave Euratom will not have consequences to our Atomic energy industry. This is just one example of the impact on regulation and cooperation that we need to be a successful economy. Nuclear energy is one where regulation is essential to provide safe management of potentially catastrophic situations.

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