Nuclear project could be ‘under threat’

Oxfordshire Guardian George Welchon: July 07, 2017

Left to right, Lorne Horton, head of the JET exploitation unit, Layla Moran, Oxford West and Abingdon MP, Ian Chapman, CEO UK Atomic Energy Authority

An Oxfordshire MP has described a government pledge to keep funding a multi-million pound nuclear fusion project in Culham, as long as the EU keeps paying in as well after Brexit, as a “sticking plaster”.

Oxford West and Abingdon MP Layla Moran welcomed the promise of more government investment at the Joint European Torus (JET) at Culham Science Centre, but said she is worried about workers’ job security and the local economy.

After Brexit the UK is to leave the Euratom Treaty, a collection of all current 28 EU countries that contribute to the development of Europe’s nuclear energy, which puts the future of the facility in doubt.

Ms Moran, who paid a visit to the site on Friday, said: “It’s a sticking plaster.

“The money keeps things going but it doesn’t stop the fact that by pulling out of the Euratom Treaty, we are pulling out of a network of scientists and that is more important than anything else.”

She continued: “Combined with the continued uncertainty around EU citizens – bearing in mind the majority of JET workers come from elsewhere – money helps but is not the answer.”

The EU covers £60million – or 88 per cent – of the running costs at JET, which employs 1,300 workers, but the UK’s contract to host the facility ends in December 2018.

Last week the government committed to paying its “fair share” of the project if the EU extends the contract to 2020.

Business Secretary Greg Clark said: “JET is a prized facility at the centre of the UK’s global leadership in nuclear fusion research, which is why the government is taking every possible step to secure its future and to maintain highly-skilled jobs in the UK.”

The announcement provides some relief to scientists but many are still worried about the county’s science sector once the UK leaves the EU.

Ms Moran added: “It puts the scientific community, nuclear safeguarding and access to treat radioactive isotopes and to treat cancer patients in jeopardy.

“The industry agrees with us that the best thing to do would be to just leave the Euratom Treaty alone.

“The 1,300 jobs that rely on the JET facility would be a huge loss to the Oxfordshire economy but also to the scientific community at large across the world.”

The UK’s promise to continue funding the facility relies on the EU being willing to pay out – only then would a discussion take place on the appropriate funding split.

Professor Ian Chapman, CEO of UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA), said the group is “pleased” by the government’s commitment.