The UK Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said on 24 December that the UK and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) had signed a Nuclear Cooperation Agreement (NCA) which was a “separate agreement from the wider UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement” finally agreed as part of the Brexit negotiations.

The UK House of Commons, the lower house of parliament, on 30 December voted in favour of the new UK-EU/ Euratom Trade and Cooperation Agreement. The agreement establishes a framework for trade after the UK leaves the EU's single market and customs union on 31 December. Under EU rules, the deal could come into effect temporarily, until the European Parliament votes on it in January. The 1246-page agreement ends the UK’s nearly 50-year EU membership.

The 21-page 24-article agreement between the UK and Euratom provides “a framework for cooperation between the Parties in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy on the basis of mutual benefit and reciprocity and without prejudice to the respective competences of each Party.” 

BEIS noted on its website: “An NCA is a commonly used international treaty which gives a legal underpinning to civil nuclear cooperation, and both Euratom and the UK already have such agreements with a number of other countries.”

The Department said that “the UK and Euratom are global leaders in supporting responsible practices in civil nuclear, particularly non-proliferation of nuclear weapons”. It added: “This UK-Euratom NCA sends a clear message to the wider international community, the nuclear sector, and the public that both parties are fully committed to cooperation on civil nuclear, including safeguards, safety, and security. It provides a framework for trade in nuclear materials and technology, facilitates research and development, and enables exchange of information and expertise including on medical radioisotopes.”

BEIS jointly with the Office of Nuclear Regulation (ONR) also posted on its website a 21-page document on  Implementation Guidelines for Nuclear Operators on NCAs between the UK and international partners.

The key articles cover safeguards (6); physical protection (7); nuclear safety (8); transfers, retransfers and facilitation of trade (9); enrichment (10); reprocessing (11); cooperation on nuclear research and development (12); exchange of information and technical expertise (13); intellectual property (14); and administrative arrangements (15). 1. The agreement will enter into force “on the first day of the month following that in which both Parties have notified each other that they have completed their respective internal requirements and procedures for establishing their consent to be bound”. It will remain in force for an initial period of 30 years.

According to the BEIS website, the UK has reached an agreement with the EU and Euratom to participate from 1 January 2021 in:

  • the Euratom Research and Training (R&T) Programme;
  • Fusion for Energy (F4E); and
  • the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project, as a Fusion for Energy member.

BEIS says the agreement is “subject to ratification of the overall deal and finalisation of the EU’s budget and the Programme regulations”.

Euratom Research and Training programme:

  • UK scientists, researchers and businesses will be able to participate in and bid for competitive awards from the Euratom R&T Programme.
  • UK participants will be able to lead consortia and distribute funding to other participants.

Fusion for Energy and ITER:

  • The UK will remain a member of Fusion for Energy.
  • UK companies can continue to bid for ITER contracts tendered by both Fusion for Energy and the ITER organisation.
  • UK researchers and staff can continue working at ITER from 1 January 2021.

On the Joint European Torus (JET), BEIS says the UK Atomic Energy Authority will continue to operate the Joint European Torus (JET) until at least October 2021. “The UK government will continue to explore options for operation beyond that date.”

The UK government website in addition lists a number of joint UK-EU declarations which give some more detail. These include a Joint Declaration on Participation in Union Programmes and Access to Programme Services under which The parties recognise “the mutual benefit in cooperation in areas of shared interest, such as science, research and innovation, nuclear research and space”. To encourage future cooperation in these areas, They aim  to establish “a formal basis for future cooperation” allowing UK participation in EU programmes “under fair and appropriate conditions and, where appropriate, in the form of access to certain services provided under Union programmes”. These include Horizon Europe (the Framework Programme for Research and Innovation), Euratom, and ITER (including F4E).

As to the Horizon Europe programme, articles 4 and 6 specify that the UK “shall participate as an associated country”. However, UK entities “shall not participate in the European Innovation Council (EIC) Fund established under Horizon Europe. (EIC funding is the financial instrument that provides investment through equity or other repayable form).

Under Article 7 the joint declaration says UK entities “may participate in all aspects of the Euratom Programme under equivalent conditions as those applicable to Euratom legal entities”. UK entities may also participate in direct actions of the Joint Research Council (JRC).

Article 8 details terms and conditions for participation in ITER and F4E. It says UK entities “may participate in all the activities of F4E under the same conditions as those applicable to Euratom legal entities”. The Parties agree that agreements  on the establishment of the ITER International Fusion Energy Organisation for the joint implementation of the ITER project and  on the Privileges and Immunities of the ITER Organisation “shall apply to the territory of the United Kingdom”.

The 1957 Euratom Treaty regulates the peaceful uses of nuclear energy in the EU. The Euratom Community is a separate legal entity from the EU, but is governed by the institutions of the member countries. The UK announced its intention to withdraw from Euratom  in January 2017 as part of the Brexit process. The UK voted in favour of Brexit by a narrow majority in a 2016 national referendum.