Intended for healthcare professionals


Why we must stay in the European Atomic Energy Community

BMJ 2017; 358 doi: (Published 26 July 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;358:j3527
  1. Martin McKee, professor of European public health
  1. London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK
  1. martin.mckee{at}

Leaving would threaten our supply of essential medical isotopes, putting patients at risk

Few Londoners could have missed the headline on the front of the Evening Standard on 10 July 2017: “Cancer patients in Brexit scare.” The headline arose from a warning by the Royal College of Radiologists that the UK’s proposed withdrawal from Euratom (the European Atomic Energy Community) threatened the supply of some widely used medical radioisotopes. Government ministers dismissed it, describing it as scaremongering.

The Euratom treaty was signed by the original members of the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1957, with the UK acceding to it when it joined the EEC in 1973. Euratom, the EEC, and the European Coal and Steel Community formed what came to be referred to as the European Communities. All three were brought together in 1992, in the Maastricht treaty, when the European Union was created. Euratom, retained a distinct legal identity, reflecting sensitivities about nuclear power at the time, but it is still subject to the European Court of Justice. This is where the problem lies.

Euratom barely featured in the Brexit referendum campaign. An 86 page House of Lords report on science and …

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