An MEP concerned with the future of a ‘world-leading’ nuclear power project near Abingdon has called on the government to be ‘very clear’ about its commitment to the multi-million pound scheme.
John Howarth believes Theresa May’s ‘off-the-cuff commitment’ to leave an EU-wide treaty promoting nuclear research “threatens the future of fusion research in which Britain has led the way”.
The EU covers £60million – or 88 per cent – of the running costs at the Joint European Torus (JET) project, which employs 1,300 workers at its Culham Science Centre base, but the UK’s contract to host the facility ends in December.
The complications of Brexit negotiations have raised major questions over the future of the world’s largest current fusion experiment.
“If the Conservative government gets Brexit wrong it will seriously affect Britain’s world-leading scientific reputation,” said Labour MEP Mr Howarth, who last week hosted an event in Culham with nuclear experts to discuss challenges ahead.
“Fusion research is far too complex for any one country to pursue on its own. These projects hinge on cross-border collaboration and involve scientists from every EU member state and beyond.”
The theory is that fusion will provide plentiful clean energy when developed on a commercial scale, with the first successful proof of concept experiments being carried out at Culham.
Mr Howarth added: “The government needs to be very clear about its future commitment to the project.”
Ian Chapman, CEO of the UK Atomic Energy Authority, the parent company of Culham Science Centre, also told the Guardian that finding a way to continue JET is ‘hugely important for the UK, Europe and the world’.
He added that fusion is about to “enter the delivery era” – and that JET “has a pivotal role to play on the path to delivering fusion power to the grid”.
The government has drawn fire for the decision to leave Euratom as it will have to negotiate new treaties with third party countries.
Abingdon MP Layla Moran accused the government of ‘saying warm words about funding replacements’ but has ‘yet to demonstrate how everything will operate in practice’.