Case study 12

The Joint European Torus

Culham Centre for Fusion Energy

Picture of the Joint European Torus (JET)

An engineer and physicist at Culham Centre for Fusion Energy outlines the importance of keeping up the pressure over Euratom, the single market and free movement.

The Joint European Torus (JET) project at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy in Oxfordshire is safeguarded by the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom), so the government decision to withdraw from the body as part of Brexit will have a direct impact, says an engineer who works there.

Engineer Richard describes JET as “a unique experiment that creates conditions similar to those inside the sun with a view to generating electricity in a clean, cheap and reliable way”.

He looks after parts of a system that helps JET function correctly and is also designing, and will build, an experiment to test parts for a similar future-generation experiment.

“Our entire organisation relies on EU funding,” he says. “We work within the Eurofusion Consortium, and receive funding from Euratom. JET itself is a European facility by definition.”

Richard has a PhD in physics and has worked for nearly 20 years designing, building and operating experiments to test, or search for, rare phenomena. He moved back to England in 2014 after two years each in France and Germany to take up his post at Culham “since this was considered a permanent position at the time”.

The group he works in employs a fairly specialist labour force. “Access to migrant workers therefore greatly aids us to fulfil our role within our organisation’s structure. We currently have five out of a total of 34 of our team originally from countries outside of the UK; all have come from other EU countries,” says Richard.

“In addition to the specialist knowledge that they contribute, a group with a variety of characters makes working life much more enjoyable, and colleagues from abroad help to provide a rich mix in this respect.”

From a personal perspective, Richard’s wife is French, which means “the uncertainty over the future status of non-UK nationals is deeply worrying. We visit mainland Europe several times a year. I have many friends in mainland Europe from my time spent living there. Brexit just feels like an embarrassment.”

Asked if there will be any benefits to Brexit, he replies: “It provides me with a personal incentive to emigrate.”

Prospect members can keep up the pressure by lobbying MPs during the forthcoming Brexit negotiations in support of continued membership of Euratom, access to the single market and freedom for employers to allow non-UK nationals to work in, for example in the NHS, he says.

“Anything to limit the amount of damage we seem to be heading towards would be helpful,” Richard concludes.