In what is being taken in Brussels as a thinly veiled threat, a paper setting out the UK position for the negotiations stresses the right “to return radioactive waste … to its country of origin” should negotiations collapse.
The UK paper, detailing the British government’s hopes for future cooperation once it leaves the Euratom treaty, at the same time as leaving the EU, further stresses the “strong mutual interest in ensuring close cooperation in the future”.
The UK has 126 tonnes of plutonium at Sellafield nuclear plant – the world’s largest civilian stockpile. Almost a fifth of the material originates from other countries including Italy, Germany and Sweden.
The Department for Exiting the European Union’s paper raises the question of what should happen to the nuclear waste once Britain leaves the Euratom treaty, which established the European Atomic Energy Community and regulates the nuclear industry across Europe.
Nuclear experts who have advised the government told the Financial Times that the UK’s warning over the future ownership of radioactive waste might just encourage a more flexible approach from Europeans over the issue.
“It might just be a reminder that a boatload of plutonium could end up at harbor in Antwerp [in Belgium] unless an arrangement is made,” one source told the newspaper.
EU diplomats hit back at the threat by telling the paper they would have “the coastguard ready.”
Britain has said while it is leaving the Euratom treaty, of which it has been a member since 1957, it wants to continue to cooperate on nuclear regulation after the UK leaves the union in March 2019.