Euratom FAQ Factsheet
What is Euratom?
- The European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) exists to promote and support the development of nuclear energy in Europe, by regulating the nuclear industry across Europe, safeguarding the transportation of nuclear materials, overseeing the safe disposal of nuclear waste, and carrying out nuclear research. It also provides the legal framework that underpins the regulation of civilian nuclear activities.
- Euratom was established by treaty in 1957. The original signatory countries also founded by treaty the European Coal and Steel Community in 1952, and the European Economic Community in 1957.
- When it was established 60 years ago, Euratom was described in its founding documents as a “nuclear common market” that enabled the free movement of nuclear workers and nuclear materials between member states.
- Euratom regulates the import and export of radioactive and nuclear materials. This includes medical radioisotopes used to treat cancer—materials which cannot be produced in the United Kingdom. Leaving Euratom could erect barriers between patients and these essential radioisotopes imported from continental producers.
Why is the UK leaving Euratom?
- Euratom guarantees freedom of movement for nuclear experts across Europe, putting it at odds with the UK government’s increasingly hard line on immigration. While established under its own treaty, it is governed by key EU institutions, including the European Court of Justice. That is why Theresa May wants to terminate the UK’s 44-year membership of Euratom: continued membership would run up against the government’s ‘red lines’.
How will leaving Euratom affect cancer treatment in the UK?
- About 1 million UK patients a year have medical imaging with radioisotopes and around 80 per cent of these products are imported — mostly from other EU countries.
- If the UK leaves Euratom as a result of Brexit then this will have implications on the supply of isotopes to the UK from EU countries.
- The UK does not have any reactors capable of producing these isotopes and because they decay rapidly – often within a matter of hours or days – hospitals in the UK must rely on a continuous supply from reactors in France, Belgium and the Netherlands.
- Medical isotopes are used either to treat cancer by killing diseased cells or, more often, to diagnose diseases by injecting a radioactive “tracer” into the body that allows scanner images to be taken of tissue and organs.
What can the UK do about it?
Dame Sue Ion, Chair of the Nuclear Innovation and Research Advisory Board, says there isn't enough time to sort out all the Euratom arrangements before we leave, making a 'cliff edge' Brexit for cancer patients. But there really is no need to leave at all!
Euratom is not the EU and the UK does not have to leave, even if it does go ahead with Brexit. This vital nuclear treaty wasn't discussed during the referendum campaign, no one voted to leave it and certainly no one voted for delays to cancer treatment.
What can I do about it?
Join us in calling for the UK to make the right decision and to stay in Euratom. You can sign our petition here.