Brexit will risk UK nuclear research jobs, says UKAEA boss

Prof Steve Cowley
Image caption Prof Cowley said scientific expertise would leave Oxfordshire in the event of Brexit

More than 1,000 clean-energy exploration jobs may be lost if the UK exits the EU, the boss of the country's nuclear research agency has warned.

Prof Steve Cowley, CEO of the UK Atomic Energy Authority, spoke out over fears £55m in annual European Commission (EC) funding would be withdrawn.

Joint European Torus, in Oxfordshire, experiments with fusion, with an aim to create clean, almost limitless energy.

But Adam Afriyie MP said Prof Cowley's claims were "absolutely ridiculous".

Prof Cowley said the issue was not simply about the jobs at Culham Science Centre, where Joint European Torus (JET) is based, but the fact the UK could lose the expertise of the staff.

Image caption The Joint European Torus is based at Culham Science Centre

Prof Cowley said: "If we should lose our European funding, the lab would have to shrink to a tiny size and the jobs would go and the expertise would move to other countries… and we would have lost our edge in a future technology that's very, very important.

"I'm very concerned for British science... this area of Oxfordshire has some of the greatest science and technology in the world... it's critical to our future.

"After [Brexit] we will lose our influence, we will lose our capability to argue for it, and eventually the EU will put the experiments in this area of science in other places."

Image caption Brexit campaigners say the UK should look outside of Europe for investment

But Mr Afriyie, Conservative MP for Windsor, said jobs were more at risk if the UK remained in Europe.

He added: "If we were to focus outwardly as we have over hundreds of years as an island nation, I think both science and technology would be in a far better position in Britain."

And John Cotton, leader of the Tory-run South Oxfordshire District Council which covers Culham, said: "Clearly we don't want to lose jobs in South Oxfordshire, and there are people whose livelihoods are dependent on trade grants from the EU, and we have to work hard to keep those staying here, but it's the bigger picture we have to look at.

"Is the potential greater for us outside the EU, trading with the whole of the world, or inside? In my view it's outside."

When asked for comment the EC said it did not speculate on what would happen if the UK was to leave the EU.

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