Hospital supplies of imported radioactive isotopes that are essential for the treatment of cancer patients across the Black Country have been jeopardised by the votes of local MPs to quit a European nuclear security program – because the UK has no production capability itself.
Stourbridge MP Margot James voted to leave the Euratom program in the face of industry warnings that supplies of the weapons-grade uranium materials that maintain most radiotherapy treatments and MRI scanning in NHS and private hospitals would be disrupted.
She is among several Black Country Conservative MPs who voted down an attempt to stay with the Euratom agreement after Brexit, as the Government presses ahead with ending all agreements with EU judicial oversight.
In 2012, Ms James officially opened a £1.5m endovascular surgery suite at Russells Hall Hospital in Dudley that uses radioactive isotopes in the treatment of blood vessel aneurysms. (See panel below) It is now one of many units across the Black Country and the wider West Midlands that would be affected by a supply shortage.
A report from the UK’s own Institute of Government research body (IOG) concludes: ‘‘The UK does not have any reactors capable of producing these isotopes and because they decay rapidly – often within a matter of hours or days – hospitals in the UK must rely on a continuous supply from reactors in France, Belgium and the Netherlands.’
‘Leaving Euratom risks breaking a series of time-sensitive supply chains which supply isotopes used in nuclear medicine.
The IOG report comes after earlier indications that breaking away from the Euratom program will isolate the UK on nuclear issues internationally along with ‘rogue states’ Iran and North Korea.
In strict legal terms the UK will be treated as a pariah state under nuclear sanctions, said Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, International Business Editor of the Daily Telegraph.
He said Britain faces exclusion from the international safeguards regime that makes nuclear business possible and will struggle to acquire the isotopes used in medical radiation.
Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the Nuclear Industry Association, which represents the UK nuclear industry, previously told the Financial Times that potential disruption to the UK’s supply of medical isotopes such as molybdenum-99, used in 80 per cent of radiation treatments, could result from a ‘disorderly’ exit from Euratom.
Greatrex explained that supplies of molybdenum-99 are tightly regulated because the isotope, which is used to kill cancerous cells, is made from weapons-grade uranium in a small number of reactors around the world. Most UK supplies come from the Netherlands.
The IOG said that the Government’s draft Nuclear Safeguards Bill does not specify how the UK will guarantee a supply of nuclear material for energy production and medical use.
The report adds: ‘The reasons for leaving have not been clearly specified, but staying in Euratom would require the UK to compromise on the negotiating positions set out by the Prime Minister in the Brexit white paper – particularly in regards to the European Court of Justice.’
Margot James, currently Minister for Small Business, Consumers and Corporate Responsibility was joined in voting against staying with Euratom by fellow Conservative MPs Gavin Williamson (Kinver) and James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis).
Dudley South Conservative MP Mike Wood was absent for the vote. Adrian Bailey (Labour, West Bromwich West) voted with fellow MPs Tom Watson (Labour, West Bromwich East) and Ian Austin (Labour, Dudley North) against leaving Euratom, as did Sutton Coldfield MP Andrew Mitchell (Conservative)
Institute of Government report into Euratom exit https://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/brexit-explained/euratom
Tom Greatrex, Nuclear Industry Association, interview with the Financial Times https://www.ft.com/content/185175e4-f9cd-11e6-9516-2d969e0d3b65
Margot James’ vote to leave Euratom https://www.theyworkforyou.com/divisions/pw-2017-02-08-160-commons/mp/24876
Guide to Nuclear Medicine https://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=gennuclear
UK as a pariah state – Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, International Business Editor, Daily Telegraph http://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2017/05/29/brexit-has-forgotten-leaving-europes-nuclear-community-just/
Margot James opens £1.5m endovascular surgery unit at Russells Hall Hospital, March 2012 http://www.dudleynews.co.uk/news/9589622.New___1_5m_medical_suite_unveiled_at_Russells_Hall_Hospital/