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Among all the arguments and divisions thrown up by the UK’s decision to leave the EU, the one uniting factor would appear to be that of uncertainty.
Given the pace of progress – or lack thereof – in our exit negotiations, and the multitude of issues concerning our post-EU future as yet unaddressed, this ongoing lack of clarity is perhaps to be expected.
Part of this is undoubtedly a result of the sheer scale of the task confronting our Government, which will need to find solutions, replacements and alternatives to systems and functions previously catered for by our EU membership.
As with so many other aspects of the EU, Euratom is proving to be one of those institutions that many people are only now beginning to learn about, as our Government’s ministers negotiate our exit from it.
Since the late 1950s, Euratom has provided a single market for the trade of nuclear material and technology across Europe, helping to ensure a reliable supply in radioisotopes as well as vital funding to research programmes, including medical research.
A consistent supply of isotopes is crucial to many everyday functions of our health service, from PET scans and biochemical analyses to the treatment of cancer and palliative care.
Meanwhile Euratom has contributed significantly to the Horizon 2020 medical research programme, with around 25 UK organisations taking part in Euratom projects benefiting from roughly €32m in funding.
Membership of Euratom also guarantees a nation’s compliance with the standards and safety regulations on nuclear material, as established by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Yet following the triggering of Article 50 in March this year, the Government announced that it would also be leaving the Euratom treaty.
This action was justified on the basis that to remain party to Euratom would, to some extent, leave the UK under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
Since its decision, the Government has drafted the Nuclear Safeguards bill, which seeks to create domestic regulatory framework that will allow the UK to continue to meet its international obligations on nuclear safeguards.
Putting in place the necessary legislation and safeguarding inspectors before the UK leaves the EU next year however, will prove to be a significant task.
The UK would have to replicate everything in the Euratom safeguards and inspection in order to be compliant with the IAEA. Failure to do so would mean effectively becoming a non-compliant nuclear state.
This will cost money and time resources which could be better spent on the NHS.
In presenting this bill, the Government has also offered assurances that leaving Euratom will not impact access to radioisotopes, which can be sourced from a number of regions around the world.
Such assurances are at best optimistic and at worst disingenuous, for while medical isotopes can be purchased on the open market, the world’s largest concentration of research reactors, and therefore supply, is in Europe.
There are a relatively small number of reactors that produce the majority of medical isotopes
our health service needs.
For this reason, scarcity of such material is likely to persist until at least 2022 – the date when the first new reactors are likely to come online.
The distance of supply also matters.
The isotope Molybdenum 99m is used to produce Technetium 99, the most commonly used isotope for diagnostics in the NHS, and has a half-life of 66 hours.
With the UK currently importing its isotopes from Europe, specifically the Netherlands and France, these time constraints pose no obstacle.
Attempting to purchase and transport this same material from more distant locations such as China or Australia would obviously reduce this margin for error, particularly if one factors in the potential for customs delays.
On research the only commitment by the government appears to be on the cold fusion project. We should also be aware of the contribution of Euratom to the Horizon 2020 grant project also covers research into radiation protection which affects the whole population and clinical staff especially as well as critically workers in the nuclear industry.
In a world of uncertainty, we can perhaps be certain of two things; that leaving Euratom will diminish the stability of the UK’s access to radioisotopes, while simultaneously making such material more expensive.
These costs will ultimately be felt by our health service and the patients it cares for.
Michael Rees is co-chair of the BMA Medical Academic Staff Committee and a professor of cardiovascular studies at Bangor University.
Scraping the bottom of the barrel? The BMA should be pleased - I'd need an atomic grade scanner to be able to detect their integrity at this point.
I am cancelling my membership. Dear BMA, you will have to make do with those "grants" from the EU.
Since its choice, the Government has drafted the Nuclear Safeguards charge, which tries to make household administrative structure that will enable the UK to keep on meeting its universal commitments on atomic shields.
Setting up the vital enactment and shielding examiners before the UK leaves the EU one year from now be that as it may, will turn out to be a huge assignment. <a href="terrariumtv.ooo/">check this</a>
The UK would need to reproduce everything in the Euratom protections and investigation so as to be consistent with the IAEA. Inability to do as such would mean adequately turning into a resistant atomic state.
Euratom does not place any restrictions on exports in this area. As the author says: "medical isotopes can be purchased on the open market". This will continue, even if 'Brexit' goes ahead.
These things should be discussed more often in everyday life. Thanks for this article.