Radiologists have said that, contrary to recent claims by the government, there is a potential risk to cancer treatments as a result of Brexit.
The Royal College of Radiologists said radioactive isotopes used in medical devices such as X-ray machines and radiotherapy devices are covered by the Euratom treaty, which regulates the movement of nuclear materials into and around Europe, and that leaving the treaty could therefore jeopardise our access to components of the devices.
Damian Green, the minister of state for the Cabinet Office, attempting to allay fears yesterday, told the House of Commons that radiologists were "scaremongering" by saying medical isotopes were covered by the treaty.
Standing in for Theresa May during Prime Minister's Questions, he told MPs: “Euratom places no restrictions on the export of medical isotopes to countries outside the EU. So, after leaving Euratom, our ability to access medical isotopes produced in Europe will not be affected.
“I hope that reassures cancer patients around the country that the scaremongering that’s going on is unnecessary.”
However, the Royal College of Radiologists has now released a statement saying that Green is wrong. It quotes List A2 of Annex IV of the Euratom treaty, which lists "Artificial radioactive isotopes and their inorganic or organic compounds".
Paul Bowden, a partner at the law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and programme leader of the International School of Nuclear Law at the University of Montpellier, told BuzzFeed News that the treaty applies.
He said the "sealed radioactive sources" these devices use constitute the "vast majority" of movements of nuclear material within the EU and around the world, and that "if we cease to be a member of Euratom, the special rules that apply to facilitate the movement between Euratom memberships that apply to these materials will not apply to us".
For "the continued, uninterrupted movements of these kinds of items", some sort of new deal will have to be arranged, he said.
When asked for comment, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy pointed BuzzFeed News to the energy minister Richard Harrington's statement in the House of Commons: “We do not believe that leaving Euratom will have any adverse effect on the supply of medical radioisotopes. Contrary to what has been in the press, they are not classed as special fissile material and are not subject to nuclear safeguards, so they are not part of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, which is the driver of our nuclear safeguards regime.
"They are covered by the Euratom treaty, but Euratom places no restriction on the export of medical isotopes outside the EU. After leaving Euratom, our ability to access medical isotopes produced in Europe will not be affected.”
Damian Green is the minister of state for the Cabinet Office. A previous version of this story misstated his job title.
Tom Chivers is a science writer for BuzzFeed and is based in London.
Contact Tom Chivers at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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