Friday, 23 March 2018

Brexit could mean throwing the nuclear baby out with the bureaucratic bathwater.

What were you thinking when you voted in the Referendum? (Or indeed, when you stayed away). As a remain voter and ex-NHS employee, I was thinking about nursing. You might have been thinking about sovereignty, academic collaboration, 350 million pounds on the side of the bus, or even about how much you miss having a blue (or actually black but it’s the principal that counts!) passport.

I doubt you were thinking about nuclear technology and the complex regulatory framework that might need renegotiating if we were to leave, and as I am a wise and forgiving overlord, you can be forgiven for that oversight. Most of us almost never think about nuclear tech. It might come up if you are going for an X-ray, or when watching The Simpsons, but as a country we have a massive blind spot about nuclear.

The thing most people know is the nuclear=radioactive. Radioactive=bad (except for microwaves which=delicious meals ready in under 5 minutes). Radioactive materials need to be carefully managed. We need to make sure they don’t hurt anyone, contaminate the environment, get stolen by people who have an itch to scratch that Twitter just won’t satisfy.  More importantly, we need to make sure we have enough of it, and enough of the people who know how to use it.  

Euratom is the agreement that we have with other European countries about nuclear technologies. It defines how materials are manufactured, sold and transported. They carry out research and manage plants and laboratories. However, it isn’t officially part of the EU, although it is managed by European agencies.

Given that it isn’t part of the EU, insisting that it be included in the 6-page letter defining the terms of Article 50 seems pig headed at best and deliberately contrary at worst. I’m happy to go out on a limb and say that no one who voted leave was electing to take on a tedious, complicated, highly bureaucratic process and if they did, they should have to do all the paperwork as punishment.

MPs have voted to keep Euratom until we have a better option but the very fact that it was ever in question is highly concerning. Nuclear technology includes the fuel that provides ¼ of our energy consumption and the disposal of waste products from same. It includes medical isotopes needed for chemotherapy and medical tests. Without nuclear power, we won’t come close to meeting climate change or air pollution targets.

Years of negative press followed by decades of silence has left us in a situation where we simply ignore nuclear power. Unless we start paying more attention, we could end up destroying an integral part of our medical and energy infrastructure.

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