Military reactors not covered by EU treaty

26 April 2005

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has thrown out an attempt by the European Commission to force Britain to hand over information about its shutdown and decommissioning of the Jason reactor, a 10kW Argonaut-design training unit at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, London.

It was a surprise ruling, because judges opposed the views of an ECJ advocate general, who had recommended that the UK was breaking its European Union (EU) treaty commitments; usually they confirm the advice of these officials. In this instance, however, the court rejected the commission’s arguments that Britain had a duty to release information under Article 37 of the Treaty on European Union. It says: “Each member state shall provide the commission with data relating to any plan for the disposal of radioactive waste to determine whether the implementation of such a plan is liable to result in the radioactive contamination of the water, soil or airspace of another member state.”

Britain claimed military nuclear reactors were exempt from this duty and the court has now agreed. It ruled the article “does not impose on the UK the obligation to provide the commission with general data associated with the decommissioning of the Jason reactor.” It continued: “The treaty is not applicable to uses of nuclear energy for military purposes.” Judges also ordered that the commission pay the British government’s legal costs. The court left a chink of light for the commission saying that it could “possibly” demand again that the UK hands over the information, citing another treaty power, but it would need support from the EU Council of Ministers.

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