(Bloomberg) -- The U.K.’s civil nuclear industry faces disruption if the country crashes out of the European Union without a deal because companies could lack the necessary paperwork to import fuel from the bloc.
One company has submitted an application for a license necessary to obtain uranium from the EU, according to Alex Trueman, a spokesman for the Office for Nuclear Regulation. The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy told companies that rely on nuclear imports in January they’d need new trade permissions in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
The U.K. government and the EU are locked in crucial negotiations with time winding down to a key summit beginning Thursday. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s vow to leave the bloc by Oct. 31 risks putting him at odds with parliament, which passed legislation requiring another Brexit deadline extension if a deal can’t be reached.
Just as bankers have made London a global financial hub, nuclear workers have turned Britain into a central cog servicing global flows of atomic material. An inability to import enriched uranium from Europe could have serious consequences for the U.K.’s nuclear industry.
A spokeswoman for Electricite de France SA, which operates nuclear power stations in the country, said that the company had nothing to add to the government’s report that arrangements for civil nuclear programs are in place. EDF boosted stockpiles of fuel and equipment ahead of an earlier Brexit deadline.
Urenco, which has nuclear enrichment facilities in Germany, the Netherlands and the U.K., has identified and mitigated material risks as much as possible, and has stock piled materials to continue construction of its U.K. site in case of transport disruption, according to an emailed statement from a company spokeswoman.
“It would be incredibly disruptive,” said Ieuan Williams, a public affairs manager at the Nuclear Industry Association, an industry group. “If you don’t have the correct export-import license it will be incredibly difficult to do anything.”
The U.K.’s lone application to continue importing will be processed if a no-deal Brexit occurs, said Trueman from the Office of Nuclear Regulation.
Many preparations have already been made to shield the civil nuclear sector after Brexit, with bilateral cooperation and trade agreements ready to ensure continuity, a No-Deal Readiness Report said last week. The U.K. has also signed new inspections agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency to replace the existing safeguards arrangements conducted via the European Atomic Energy Community.
Despite these measures, the government recommends that businesses apply for the import licenses from ONR. That is the same process that companies have used to import materials from non-EU countries. Nothing will change for imports from outside of the EU.
While uranium ore originates in countries outside of the EU, like Australia and Kazakhstan, some of the materials are first shipped to Europe for enrichment before coming to the U.K., according to the NIA’s Williams. Last year, the U.K. imported more than $440 million of uranium and plutonium products from France, Germany and the Netherlands, according to data from the United Nations.
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