Nuclear research if there’s no Brexit deal
A scenario in which the UK leaves the EU without agreement (a ‘no deal’ scenario) remains unlikely given the mutual interests of the UK and the EU in securing a negotiated outcome.
Negotiations are progressing well and both we and the EU continue to work hard to seek a positive deal. However, it’s our duty as a responsible government to prepare for all eventualities, including ‘no deal’, until we can be certain of the outcome of those negotiations.
For two years, the government has been implementing a significant programme of work to ensure the UK will be ready from day 1 in all scenarios, including a potential ‘no deal’ outcome in March 2019.
It has always been the case that as we get nearer to March 2019, preparations for a ‘no deal’ scenario would have to be accelerated. Such an acceleration does not reflect an increased likelihood of a ‘no deal’ outcome. Rather it is about ensuring our plans are in place in the unlikely scenario that they need to be relied upon.
This series of technical notices sets out information to allow businesses and citizens to understand what they would need to do in a ‘no deal’ scenario, so they can make informed plans and preparations.
This guidance is part of that series.
Also included is an overarching framing notice explaining the government’s overarching approach to preparing the UK for this outcome in order to minimise disruption and ensure a smooth and orderly exit in all scenarios.
We are working with the devolved administrations on technical notices and we will continue to do so as plans develop.
This notice explains how civil nuclear research that the UK already undertakes with the EU will be affected in the unlikely event that the UK leaves the EU in March 2019 with no agreement in place.
It is relevant to all researchers and research organisations in the fields of nuclear fission research (the current method of energy generation used at power plants), and nuclear fusion research (experimental energy generation technology).
Before 29 March 2019
The UK is currently a net contributor to the EU budget. The UK is also a member of the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom), which facilitates cooperation between EU countries in the civil nuclear sector. This includes participation in the Euratom Research & Training programme.
Through this programme, UK organisations and scientists collaborate internationally on a range of nuclear research projects and facilities, including:
- Joint European Torus: The Joint European Torus, located at Culham Centre for Fusion Energy in Oxfordshire UK, is the world’s largest operational magnetically confined plasma physics experiment, and the focal point of the European fusion research programme
- International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor: The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor is an international nuclear fusion research and engineering megaproject
- Joint Research Centre: The Joint Research Centre is the European Commission’s science and knowledge service. It employs scientists to carry out research in order to provide independent scientific advice and support to EU policy
- indirect actions (such as a competitive call for proposals for fission research and the Joint European Torus Operating Contract).
The Euratom Research and Training programme runs for five years at a time, with scope for a two-year extension within the same Multiannual Financial Framework cycle. The current programme runs between 2014-2018 and the 2019-2020 extension of the programme is still under discussion in the EU. In May 2018, the Council of the EU agreed to the extension in principle. This extension is expected to be agreed in the early autumn 2018 once the European Parliament submits its view.
In a negotiated scenario, the UK will continue to take part in all EU programmes during the rest of the 2014-2020 Multiannual Financial Framework, including Euratom Research & Training. This has been agreed as part of the Financial Settlement which was signed-off by both UK and Commission negotiators in a draft Withdrawal Agreement and welcomed by the other 27 EU member states at March European Council.
After 29 March 2019 if there’s ‘no deal’
The UK would leave Euratom. A separate notice has been prepared on the implications of leaving Euratom for the civil nuclear sector, including the future context and impact in a ‘no deal’ scenario on civil nuclear trade with the EU and partners.
In a ‘no deal’ scenario, the UK will:
- no longer be a member of the Euratom R&T programme
- no longer be a member of Fusion for Energy
- therefore, no longer be able to collaborate on the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor project through the EU.
The UK government is committed to nuclear research. This will mean continued domestic research, as well as its other international partnerships, to ensure the UK retains its world leading position in this field.
Implications, and actions for businesses and other stakeholders
Joint European Torus – continued funding
In a ‘no deal’ scenario, the government will fulfil its stated commitment to continue to provide funding for its share of Joint European Torus costs until the end of 2020, subject to the EU Commission extending the Joint European Torus operating contract until then. The European Commission has stated its ambition to ‘extend the Joint European Torus operating contract until 2020’ but a final decision is still outstanding.
The UK Atomic Energy Agency sees Joint European Torus experiments as critical to supporting International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor construction and planning. When the Joint European Torus operating contract ends, the UK government is willing to discuss options to keep Joint European Torus operational until the end of its useful life.
Guarantee for competitive EU funds
In a ‘no deal’ scenario, the UK will leave the EU budget in March 2019 meaning UK organisations would no longer receive future funding for projects under EU programmes, such as Euratom Research and Training, without further action. However, the Chancellor announced in August and October 2016 that the government will guarantee EU projects agreed before we leave the EU, to provide more certainty for UK organisations over the course of EU exit. The guarantee covers the payment of awards where UK organisations successfully bid directly to the European Commission on a competitive basis while we remain in the EU.
In July 2018, the Chief Secretary laid a written ministerial statement extending this guarantee to provide further stability for UK organisations in a ‘no deal’ scenario. The guarantee now includes the payment of awards under successful bids where UK organisations can participate as a third country in competitive grant programmes from exit day until the end of 2020.
This means that in a ‘no deal’ scenario, at which point the UK will assume third country status, the government’s commitment will guarantee funding for eligible, successful bids until the end of 2020 for UK organisations who successfully bid directly to the EU for competitive grants under the Euratom Research and Training programme.
For international partnerships
International research partnerships will continue to be important in a ‘no deal’ scenario. The UK is on track to have bilateral Nuclear Cooperation Agreements in place with key priority partners ahead of March 2019. This will facilitate continued, unimpeded civil nuclear trade and nuclear research cooperation with these countries.
The UK will no longer be a member of Fusion for Energy and UK businesses will not be able to bid for International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor contracts through Fusion for Energy. However, in this scenario the UK government is willing to discuss with International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor opportunities for UK researchers, companies, and institutions, to collaborate on this critical experiment.
UK researchers working in the UK on Euratom Research and Training programmes
The guarantee and its extension provide UK stakeholders with reassurance that Euratom Research & Training projects covered by its terms will be funded for the lifetime of the project.
The UK government intends to implement a similar process to that being used for Horizon 2020 to ensure beneficiaries of Euratom Research & Training grants can continue to receive payments unaffected, should the guarantee be required. Information on how this process will work can be found in the Horizon 2020 technical notice, and further information and guidance will be provided in due course.
For awards where UK organisations successfully bid directly to the European Commission on a competitive basis, we will work with the Commission to ensure that UK organisations will be able to continue to participate.
We are aware there may be cases where UK participants lead a consortium and are responsible for distributing funding to the other participants; the UK government is seeking to discuss how this could best be addressed in a no-deal scenario with the European Commission. These discussions would also need to include consideration of projects where the UK’s change in status from member state to third country could lead to concerns about ongoing compliance with Horizon 2020 rules (for example, where a consortium no longer meets the threshold for member state participants).
This notice is meant for guidance only. You should consider whether you need separate professional advice before making specific preparations.
It is part of the government’s ongoing programme of planning for all possible outcomes. We expect to negotiate a successful deal with the EU.