More Euratom Red Herrings

The government’s confirmation of Britain’s intended exit from the Euratom Treaty is much to be welcomed. As our post of 29th June stated, the anxiety over this step – prefigured when Article 50 to leave the EU was triggered on March 29th, is entirely confected by people who don’t know that they are talking about. This is usually the case when anything with a remotely scientific content is concerned.

What is Euratom and what does it do?

Euratom is essentially a bureaucratic confection – as the objectives set out in the 1957 Euratom Treaty make clear (see our post of 29th June).

Euratom is responsible for the Joint European Torus (JET) nuclear fusion experiment at Culham in Oxfordshire, and so far as Britain is concerned, that’s about it. JET is about the far-off prospect of commercial nuclear fusion, which, even if it worked, while generating only water as waste product, is set to generate a huge amount of CO2 in the construction of the Torus reactor and currently uses huge amounts of electricity to create only fleeting moments of nuclear fusion.

Origins of JET

The Culham installation dates from the 1970s Labour government’s Ministry of Technology Minister, Anthony Wedgewood Benn. It was opened by the Queen in 1984 . Although it has generated as much as 16 MW for a few seconds, JET is essentially a fusion research facility. There is also a later system called the ITER Tokamak being built at Saint Paul-sur-Durance in Southern France. Both systems, especially at Culham, depend on a large number of research institutes and universities, which is why there is such an outcry from nuclear scientists if Brexit appears to affect their roles.

But there is no reason why it should. The successor ITER is aptly named International Thermonuclear Reactor, so that the costs can be spread as widely as possible across the EU (45%) India, China, Russia, South Korea and the USA (9% each). So why should ITER not welcome the UK’s continued partnership at 9% of costs – which is about what we pay as part of the EU subscription. Of course they will and the scientists’ fears are groundless. The basic point is that the UK’s continued participation in ITER or otherwise is nothing really to do with the EU as such, but is a decision for all the international members of ITER and the persuasive powers of their scientists and engineers. Clearly an independent UK would be welcome to help spread the costs.

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