THE government’s stand-off with Brussels is less than a week old but already one aspect of the Brexit divorce is causing severe collywobbles in Britain: withdrawal from the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom), which oversees the EU’s nuclear industry. A cross-party committee of MPs, as well as the industry itself, said this week that an abrupt departure in two years’ time could be disastrous. It is also a real possibility.

Euratom, started in 1957, provides safeguards for trade in nuclear materials, ensuring they are not diverted to rogue regimes. It encompasses the EU’s single market, but also agreements with suppliers of uranium, such as Australia, Canada and Kazakhstan. Moreover it provides legal underpinning for a global supply chain of nuclear technology and services.

If Britain crashes out of Euratom in 2019 without substitute arrangements in place, within a matter of weeks it could find itself unable to replenish its uranium stockpiles. It would be unable to carry out maintenance on reactors using American and Japanese technology, and be forced to halt construction of Hinkley Point C, a new reactor being built by France’s EDF that will rely on foreign firms for up to 36% of its inputs.

It could also provoke an abrupt skills shortage. The nuclear industry is renowned for its globe-trotting workers and Euratom enshrines their ability to move freely across borders. Britain’s nuclear industry relies on imported welders, steel fixers and pipe fitters. It would take time to develop such skills domestically.

The MPs described Theresa May’s Brexit-related decision to quit Euratom in January as an “unfortunate, and perhaps unforeseen” consequence of her choice to leave the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, on which it depends. They urged her to delay departure.

The government has sought to reassure the industry that it understands the risks. After all, nuclear power generates a fifth of British electricity, and there are £60bn ($78bn) of new investments planned.

But it has just two years to replace the infrastructure, equipment, skilled personnel and processes that Euratom has provided in Britain to safeguard the nuclear industry. Only when these are in place can it start negotiating its own nuclear co-operation agreements with other countries. That is not an impossible task, but there is no guarantee it will succeed either.