With Britain’s decision to exit the European Union (EU), Nuclear Energy partner James Glasgow looks at the likely impacts on nuclear commerce of a UK withdrawal from Euratom and evaluates actions that the U.S. and other countries could take to avoid a disruption of commerce following such a withdrawal.

On Jun. 23, 2016, British voters decided, through a nonbinding referendum, that the UK should withdraw from the European Union (EU). If the UK actually implements this decision (widely known as “Brexit”), there would be major economic and security implications for both the UK and the EU. There may also be implications for the continuation of the UK's membership in the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom), which currently has 28 member states.

In their published remarks and website postings, some commentators contend that Brexit need not result in the UK’s withdrawal from Euratom, since Euratom was established in 1957 by the Treaty of Rome and Brexit deals with the UK’s status as a party to the EU Treaty and the European Community Treaty. Other authors conclude that implementation of Brexit will unavoidably lead to the UK’s withdrawal from Euratom. They base their conclusions partly on their reading of the UK’s European Communities Act of 1972 and their perception of the difficulty of only partly repealing that act, which provides for the UK’s implementation of Euratom's requirements as well as those of the EU.

Nuclear commerce between the UK and countries that currently have a bilateral nuclear trade agreement directly with the UK probably would not be affected by the UK's withdrawal from Euratom. However, most nuclear commerce with the UK depends on supplier countries’ agreements with Euratom and thus would be disrupted by a withdrawal. Such agreements between Euratom and many nuclear supplier nations are the legal basis for their exports to the UK of major power reactor components as well as uranium consigned for UK conversion, enrichment and fabrication facilities. These Euratom agreements are applicable to the UK in its capacity as a member of Euratom. If the UK leaves Euratom, these legal channels for nuclear commerce will no longer be available to the UK.

First published in Nuclear Intelligence Weekly.