Unite: nuclear power jobs threatened by safety treaty uncertainty post-Brexit

Failure to replace the UK’s membership of the Euratom nuclear safety treaty with new domestic safeguards arrangements ahead of Britain leaving the European Union could leave nuclear power station upgrades and new builds in limbo, Unite has warned.

Reports that the British nuclear industry is activating plans to relocate some nuclear material and components around Europe in anticipation of the UK government’s failure to establish an International Atomic Energy Agency approved arrangement, along with ones with Europe and with non-EU nuclear partners, have focussed concerns about the impact of Brexit on the nuclear industry.

The Euratom treaty created a common nuclear market in the EU and has governed nuclear safeguards in the UK for four decades, including transport, trade, regulation and know-how. But although it is not in itself an EU treaty, the government signalled its intention, against the advice of industry experts, to leave it when it triggered Article 50.

Although the Nuclear Safeguards bill, which is intended to replace Euratom with domestic arrangements, has its second reading in the House of Commons today (16 October), the Nuclear Industries Association has warned there is insufficient time to have all the necessary bi-lateral deals and other agreements in place by March 2019.

Labour is seeking to significantly amend the bill to ensure the government seeks to maintain membership or an equivalent relationship with Euratom.

Kevin Coyne, Unite’s national officer for energy and utilities, said:

“This chaos over Euratom confirms what Unite has long said. That Brexit presents the energy industry with profound challenges. The government’s decision to pull the UK out of Euratom on leaving the EU potentially puts the building of Hinkley Point C, along with other new build projects, into limbo. This would put hundreds of our member’s jobs at risk and is totally unacceptable.

“Unite supports the Labour party’s position that the best way to maintain nuclear safeguards and to protect the nuclear industry is to remain a member or associate member of Euratom, or achieve equivalent arrangements.”

EDF energy, the country’s biggest generator of nuclear energy and the major investor in Hinkley, has warned that a failure to be able to source components could lead to “extended outages” at its power stations.

Kevin Coyne added: “Our members working in the nuclear power industry keep this country’s lights on and Unite is committed to protecting their jobs and the future of the communities that rely on them. Theresa May must engage with trade unions in the energy sector in order to ensure there is no delay in the delivery of new nuclear infrastructure as a result of leaving Euratom and that energy is not given a low priority in the Brexit negotiations.”

A Labour amendment to the European Union (Withdrawal) bill also seeks to stop the UK leaving Euratom until the government can say how it will replace all its nuclear relationships.