The ignored nuclear aspects of Brexit

Apart from the power plants, everybody ignored the (trucks with) medical isotopes.

This another two-piece article.

In the first article I talk about the Euratom aspect of the EU, totally ignored in 99% of Brexit campaigns and in present Brexit debates. The aspect of transporting nuclear material for medicinal purposes brings these atomic aspects of the EU very close to everybody’s private lives: the survival of cancer patients

In the second article, I follow on by pointing out that the UK turns out to be the international transport and EU certification hub in the international trade of medicines, medical supplies and appliances. That has a massive impact on the Dutch (and possibly French and German) health system as a whole when a No Deal Brexit occurs.

 As we all know by now, Brexit means a total resetting, readjusting, if not disruption of European-UK ties and supply chains build up in centuries, but especially since Ted Heath and Margaret Thatcher (but NOT duplicitous Wilson and NOT Corbyn) led the way in making Britain a member of the EEC and Euratom. 

For example: I give a bottle of champagne to anybody who can point to a substantial (part of a) Brexiteers speech about maintaining (and paying only from the British budget) a safe and secure, that is: Euratom-like safety regime around the British civilian nuclear infrastructure (both the existing power plants and reactors, and those presently being build and/or abandoned by their foreign sponsors). 

But another ignored aspect deals with  the just-in-time transport of nuclear items for medicinal purposes. 

An example of the latter is something the whole NHS needs for important treatments: isotopes for treating cancers. The Dutch nuclear plant at Petten is one in only three locations around the world where medical isotopes crucial for NHS cancer treatments are produced. Wikipedia tells us :

Petten is also a large producer of radioactive material for the purpose of medical diagnosis and the treatment of cancer and contrast agents. The nuclear facilities at Petten supply 60% of the European demand for medical isotopes. 

The US & America’s market is being covered by Chalk River Laboratories, Ontario, Canada. Flight time to London: 8 hours.

Isotopes production needs highly enriched uranium, which involves big safety issues because that is the crucial element in producing nuclear weapons; thus only three plants in the world produce medicinal isotopes, which obviously limits their global availability. When Petten closes for maintenance, that’s a big deal for the present EU.

Those isotopes have to be used within a very short time of being produced (I think it is around a day) otherwise they’re useless. With HM Customs using outdated (MS-DOS) software, and Brexit clogging up roads in the BeNeLux, France and the UK, isotope transport by truck runs into that deadline. If you add or substitute trains, the intensive use already made of the Dutch and British railroad networks is a problem from the start.

Does anybody in the UK remember Boris or Rees-Mogg mentioning Petten, or isotopes as a EU-traded commodity? Have they ever heard of this vital trade? 

* Dr. Bernard Aris is a historian, a D66 parliamentary researcher and a LibDem supporting member.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Diane Collingwood 8th Feb '19 - 11:55am

    I am thinking of joining the lib Dems. I always read your items on FB. I am still appalled by the way that you were smashed down after the coalition with the Tories. BREXIT might never have taken place if the coalition had carried on.

  • Laurence Cox 8th Feb '19 - 4:57pm

    Factually correct, but misleading Bernard. For anti-proliferation reasons there has been research for several years on alternative methods of creating radioisotopes including LEU reactors and cyclotrons. This POST Research Report from two years ago summarises the situation:

    Relying on Wikipedia without further checking is always risky.

  • John Chandler 10th Feb '19 - 11:17am

    The UK’s departure from Euratom was, to my knowledge, never mentioned once in the referendum campaign by either side. It certainly came as a surprise to most people, including many Leavers, when the departure was announced soon after the referendum result! As far as I’m aware, its only link to the EU is that it uses the ECJ for handling arbitration issues, which seems to cause some Brexiters a bit of distress.

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