United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority

The United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) is a UK government research organisation responsible for the development of nuclear fusion power. It is an executive non-departmental public body of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

On its formation in 1954, the authority was responsible for the UK's entire nuclear program, both civil and defence, as well as the policing of nuclear sites. It made pioneering developments in nuclear (fission) power, overseeing the development of nuclear technology and performing much scientific research. However, since the early 1970s its areas of work have been gradually reduced, with functions transferred to other government organisations as well as to the private sector.

The authority now focuses on UK and European fusion power research programs at Culham in Oxfordshire, including the world's most powerful fusion device, the Joint European Torus. The research aims to develop fusion power as a commercially viable, environmentally sound energy source for the future.

UKAEA owns the Culham Science Centre and has a stake in the Harwell Campus, and is involved in the development of both sites as locations for science and innovation-based business.

It has also been involved in undertaking safety and reliability assessments for outside bodies, due to its long running experience in such work within the nuclear field.

United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority
UK Atomic Energy Authority
TypeNon-departmental public body
Official language
British English
Key people
Prof. Ian T. Chapman (CEO)
SubsidiariesCulham Centre for Fusion Energy
RACE (Remote Applications in Challenging Environments)


The authority was established on 19 July 1954 when the Atomic Energy Authority Act 1954[1] received Royal Assent and gave the authority the power "to produce, use and dispose of atomic energy and carry out research into any matters therewith".[2][3]

The UKAEA was formed from the Ministry of Supply, Department of Atomic Energy and inherited its facilities and most of its personnel on its formation.

The first chairman was Sir Edwin Plowden, with board members running the three major divisions:[2]

UKAEA inherited nearly 20,000 employees, which doubled to 41,000 by 1961. Most of UKAEA's early activities were related to the UK's nuclear weapons programme, and the need for plutonium, highly enriched uranium, and materials for hydrogen bombs. Between 1952 and 1958 UKAEA carried out 21 nuclear weapon tests in Australia and the Pacific.[2]

Following the Atomic Energy Authority Act 1971, the authority was split into three, with only research activities remaining with the Authority. The Radiochemical Centre Ltd took over production of medical and industrial radioisotopes and was later privatised in 1982 as Amersham plc. British Nuclear Fuels Ltd (BNFL) took over nuclear fuel and weapons material producing activities: the manufacturing plant at Springfields, the enrichment plant at Capenhurst, the spent-fuel facility at Windscale, and the dual-purpose Calder Hall and Chapelcross military plutonium producing reactors.[4]

The Atomic Energy Authority (Weapons Group) Act 1973 transferred responsibility for management of the UK's nuclear deterrent, including the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Aldermaston, directly to the Ministry of Defence.

In 1982 the authority was involved in the creation of Nirex, to develop and operate radioactive waste disposal facilities in the UK.

The Atomic Energy Authority Act 1986 put the authority into trading fund mode, requiring it to act and account as though it were a commercial enterprise and become self-financing.

The authority was then split again by the Atomic Energy Authority Act 1995, with the more commercial parts transferred into a public company AEA Technology, which was then floated on the London Stock Exchange in 1996. The nuclear facilities used for the UK's research and development program, which held large decommissioning liabilities, were retained. The role of the authority became to decommission these nuclear assets and to restore the environment around the sites. From the early 1990s the authority completed more decommissioning work than anyone in Europe, and had considerable success in regenerating former nuclear sites for commercial use.

Following the Energy Act 2004, on 1 April 2005 the UK's specialist nuclear police force, the UK Atomic Energy Authority Constabulary, was reconstituted as the Civil Nuclear Constabulary. Responsibility for the force was also removed from the authority and transferred to the Civil Nuclear Police Authority. The 2004 Act also established the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), which on 1 April 2005 took ownership and responsibility for the liabilities relating to the cleanup of UK nuclear sites. The authority became a contractor for the NDA for the decommissioning work at Dounreay, Harwell, Windscale, Winfrith and the JET facilities at Culham.

On 1 April 2008, the Authority announced a major re-structuring to meet its decommissioning obligations with the NDA. A new wholly owned subsidiary, UKAEA Limited, was formed with established expertise from the existing company, to focus on nuclear decommissioning and environmental restoration management and consultancy in the UK and international markets.

At the same time, Dounreay Site Restoration Limited (DSRL) was formed out of the existing Authority team at Dounreay and was licensed by the Health and Safety Executive to operate the site and carry out its decommissioning under the Authority's management. DSRL became a subsidiary of UKAEA Limited.

In parallel with these changes, the site at Windscale in Cumbria was transferred to Sellafield Ltd, a site licence company under contract to the NDA, following close review and scrutiny by the Health and Safety Executive and environmental and security regulators. The majority of authority employees at the site transferred to Sellafield Ltd.

On 2 February 2009, the authority announced the next stage in restructuring. Research Sites Restoration Limited (RSRL), was formed from the existing teams at Harwell in Oxfordshire and Winfrith in Dorset and licensed by the Health and Safety Executive to operate those sites. RSRL continued the decommissioning programmes for Harwell and Winfrith on behalf of the NDA. RSRL also became a subsidiary of UKAEA Limited.

In October 2009, Babcock International Group plc acquired UKAEA Limited, the nuclear clean-up subsidiary of the authority, including its subsidiary companies DSRL and RSRL.[5]

In 2009 the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy (CCFE) was launched as the new name for the home of UK fusion research.

In 2014 UKAEA announced the creation of a new branch of research, using expertise gained from the remote handling system created for JET to form a new centre for robotics known as RACE (Remote Applications in Challenging Environments).

The Authority has continued to expand its facilities at Culham in recent years, with the opening of a Materials Research Facility in 2016[6] and creation of the Oxfordshire Advanced Skills apprentice training centre.

Current activities

UKAEA states its mission as "to lead the commercial development of fusion power and related technology and position the UK as a leader in sustainable nuclear energy."[7] Its research programmes include a number of laboratories and other facilities at the Culham site.

ProjectPixels Plasma
A plasma test in the MAST experiment at Culham Centre for Fusion Energy, 2013.


Culham Centre for Fusion Energy (CCFE)

The UK's national laboratory for fusion research, CCFE undertakes plasma theory and modelling studies to establish the physics basis for future fusion powerplants. It also studies the materials and engineering technology of tokamak fusion reactors. The centrepiece of CCFE's programme is the MAST Upgrade spherical tokamak experiment - the successor to the MAST device - which is expected to begin operation in 2019.

CCFE also operates and maintains the Joint European Torus (JET) for its research partners around Europe, and is a member of the co-ordinated R&D programme led by the EUROfusion consortium.

Materials Research Facility

UKAEA's Materials Research Facility carries out micro-characterisation of radioactive materials for researchers in both nuclear fusion and fission. It is open to users from academic and commercial organisations, aiming to bridge the gap between university laboratories and those at nuclear licensed sites. It is part of the National Nuclear Users' Facility and has received funding from the Henry Royce Institute.

Oxfordshire Advanced Skills

A partnership between UKAEA and the Science & Technology Facilities Council, Oxfordshire Advanced Skills is an apprentice training centre located at Culham Science Centre. It offers training for technicians in engineering and hi-tech disciplines, with the intention of providing local employers with highly-skilled recruits ready to enter the workplace. Training is provided by the Manufacturing Technology Centre.

Remote Applications in Challenging Environments (RACE)

RACE is a test facility for robotics and autonomous systems. It grew out of UKAEA's remote handling operations at the JET nuclear fusion device, which date back to the 1990s. The UK Government funded the construction of the RACE centre at Culham with the intention of taking the knowledge gained at JET into other industries with 'challenging environments' where it is difficult for humans to perform work. RACE currently works with organisations in nuclear fusion and fission, with large physics facilities and with autonomous vehicle developers.

Future plans

In December 2017, UKAEA announced plans for two further fusion research centres: Hydrogen-3 Advanced Technology (H3AT) and Fusion Technology Facilities.[8] H3AT will study the processing and storage of tritium, one of the two fuels expected to supply commercial fusion reactors. The Fusion Technology Facilities will carry out thermal, mechanical, hydraulic and electromagnetic tests on prototype components to replicate the conditions experienced inside fusion reactors. Both centres are scheduled to open in 2020.


Authority site locations:

Historical site locations:

See also


  1. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 14 March 2012. Retrieved 26 March 2013.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  2. ^ a b c "UKAEA's First 50 Years". Nuclear Engineering International. 5 November 2004. Retrieved 17 January 2014.
  3. ^ UKAEA – The First Fifty Years, Andy Munn, http://www.caithness.org/fpb/dounreay/history/index.htm
  4. ^ Walter C. Patterson (1985). Going Critical: An Unofficial History of British Nuclear Power (PDF). Paladin. ISBN 0-586-08516-5. Retrieved 12 June 2009. Additional link
  5. ^ "History". UKAEA. Archived from the original on 5 January 2013.
  6. ^ "News: Science Minister signals a new era for Culham". www.ccfe.ac.uk. Retrieved 11 July 2019.
  7. ^ "About us". GOV.UK. Retrieved 11 July 2019.
  8. ^ "£86 million boost for UK nuclear fusion programme". GOV.UK. Retrieved 11 July 2019.

External links

Anthony Cleaver

Sir Anthony Brian Cleaver HonFREng (born 10 April 1938) started his career as a systems engineer with IBM UK Ltd in 1962. He went on to become a Chief Executive and Chairman. He was Chairman of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority and steered AEA Technology through its privatisation. He also chaired the UK Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and the Medical Research Council.

Atomic Energy Authority Act

Atomic Energy Authority Act (with its variations) is a stock short title used for legislation in the United Kingdom relating to the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority.

The Bill for an Act with this short title will have been known as a Atomic Energy Authority Bill during its passage through Parliament.

Brian Eyre

Brian Leonard Eyre CBE, FRS, FREng (29 November 1933 – 28 July 2014) was a British material scientist, Chief Executive of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) and Professor at the University of Liverpool. He was also a visiting scholar at the University of Oxford and University College London.

Chapelcross nuclear power station

Chapelcross was a Magnox nuclear power plant near Annan in Dumfries and Galloway in southwest Scotland, in operation from 1959 to 2004. It was the sister plant to the Calder Hall plant in Cumbria, England; both were commissioned and originally operated by the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority.

The primary purpose of both plants was to produce weapons-grade plutonium for the UK's nuclear weapons programme, but they also generated electrical power for the National Grid.

Colin Windsor

Colin George Windsor FRS (born 28 June 1938) is a British physicist, and was Programme Area Manager, for the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority

Culham Centre for Fusion Energy

The Culham Centre for Fusion Energy (CCFE) is the UK's national laboratory for fusion research. It is located at the Culham Science Centre, near Culham, Oxfordshire, and is the site of the Joint European Torus (JET), Mega Ampere Spherical Tokamak (MAST) and the now closed Small Tight Aspect Ratio Tokamak (START).

Formerly known as UKAEA Culham, the laboratory was renamed in October 2009 as part of organisational changes at its parent body, the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA).Since 2016, the director has been Professor Ian Chapman, and the centre has been engaged in work towards the final detailed design of ITER as well as preparatory work in support of DEMO.

In 2014 it was announced the centre would house the new RACE (Remote Applications in Challenging Environments).

Dragon reactor

Dragon was an experimental high temperature gas-cooled reactor at Winfrith in Dorset, England, operated by the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority. Its purpose was to test fuel and materials for the European high temperature reactor programme, and it was built and managed as an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development/Nuclear Energy Agency international project. Dragon used helium gas as coolant and coated particle fuel.

ESR Technology

ESR Technology was formerly the engineering, safety and risk business of AEA Technology, which was formed from the commercial arm of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority. It specializes in the provision of technical expertise, products, and services to help customers ensure asset integrity, improve machine reliability, manage safety and risk, and transfer best practice. It has customers across many sectors, including oil and gas, rail, utilities, aviation, and space and defense. It operates four centers of excellence: the National Centre of Tribology, European Space Tribology Laboratory, Pump Centre, and the National Non-Destructive Test Centre.

The company's main operations are located at Warrington (Head Office) in England, Milton (Oxfordshire) in England, and Aberdeen in Scotland.

Harwell Science and Innovation Campus

The Harwell Science and Innovation Campus is a science and technology campus near the villages of Harwell and Chilton, Oxfordshire, England. The site is 2 miles (3 km) outside Didcot, about 15 miles (24 km) south of Oxford and roughly 6 miles (10 km) east of Wantage. A large part of the site was formerly the main research establishment of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, but it has seen a transition to its new role as a science and business park as the nuclear facilities have been decommissioned.

John G. Collier

John Gordon Collier FRS (22 January 1935 – 18 November 1995) was a British chemical engineer and administrator, particularly associated with nuclear power for electricity production. He started as an apprentice at Harwell United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) and rose to become its chairman.

Lorna Arnold

Lorna Margaret Arnold (née Rainbow; 7 December 1915 – 25 March 2014) was a British historian who wrote a number of books connected with the British nuclear weapons programmes.

A graduate of Bedford College, London, she trained as a teacher at the Cambridge Training College for Women, but left teaching in 1940. During the Second World War, she served with the Army Council secretariat. In 1944, she transferred to the Foreign Office to head a section of the secretariat of the European Advisory Commission. In June 1945, she moved to Berlin as part of the Allied Control Council, working in the Economic Directorate alongside counterparts from France, America and Russia to co-ordinate administering the districts and supplying food to the population. She was posted to Washington, D.C., in November 1946 as part of the British negotiating team that agreed to merge the U.S. and British zones of Allied-occupied Germany into Bizonia, and remained at the Pentagon until 1949.

In January 1959, she joined the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA), where she worked within its Authority Health and Safety Branch (AHSB), coordinating the investigation of the 1957 Windscale fire, about which she would later write a book. In 1967, she joined Margaret Gowing in writing the history of the British nuclear weapons programmes. As its second official historian, she had access to previously secret documents and personally knew many of the people involved. She produced histories of the 1957 Windscale fire, the nuclear weapons tests in Australia and the British hydrogen bomb programme. In her old age she was still an active participant in intelligence/historical community debate.

Marshall Stoneham

Arthur Marshall Stoneham, FRS (May 18, 1940 Barrow, Cumbria, UK – February 18, 2011), known as Marshall Stoneham, was a British physicist who worked for the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, and from 1995 was Massey professor of physics at University College London.

Nuclear or Not?

Nuclear or Not? Does Nuclear Power Have a Place in a Sustainable Energy Future? is a 2007 book edited by Professor David Elliott. The book offers various views and perspectives on nuclear power. Authors include:

Paul Allen from the Centre for Alternative Technology

Dr Ian Fairlie, who served on the Committee Examining Radiation Risks of Internal Emitters (CERRIE)

Stephen Kidd of the World Nuclear AssociationProfessor Elliott calls for continued debate on the nuclear power issue. He has worked with the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority before moving to the Open University where he is Professor of Technology Policy and has developed courses on technological innovation, focusing in particular on renewable energy technology.

Pantheon (mythical creature)

The Pantheon is a mythical or imaginary creature used in heraldry, particularly in Britain. It appears to have been first adopted in English coats of arms in the early Tudor period, subsequently becoming part of the design repertoire of the heralds in their official grants of arms. Early sightings of the creature include the pantheon crests of the Gloucestershire knight Sir Christopher Baynham (knighted 1513) and his Cornish contemporary John Skewys. Two pantheons appear from the 1530s as the supporters of the arms of the Paulet or Powlett Marquesses of Winchester, though at a later date they were reinterpreted as the hinds or female deer they can closely resemble. In 1556 a coat of arms with three pantheons on the shield was granted to Henry Northey of Bocking in Essex.The pantheon was a mythological beast from the heraldic period. They were often depicted as white deer with the tail of a fox and spangeled with purple stars along their back.

The pantheon is usually represented as a cervid similar to a hind (a female red deer), usually black or dark blue in colour, although sometimes red, its hide patterned with regularly spaced stars or estoiles. However the historian of heraldry Hugh Stanford London suggested that the creature originated as a misreading or misunderstanding of the panther (itself represented in exotic fashion in heraldry and medieval art, often shown with stars on its body and sometimes even with cloven hooves).Pantheons became popular again in the twentieth century, particularly as a symbol of air or space travel or other advanced forms of technology. Examples are the arms of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, granted in 1955; two pantheons also appear as the supporters of the arms of the Engineering Council (the United Kingdom regulatory body for the engineering profession), granted in 1984.

RAF Dounreay

RAF Dounreay was built for RAF Coastal Command in 1944 but not used by them. Transferred to the Royal Navy as HMS Tern II but not commissioned and on care and maintenance until 1954.

In 1955 the airfield was taken over by the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) for developing a fast breeder reactor. One runway was kept operational until the 1990s for transport to/from the site.


Springfields is a nuclear fuel production installation in Salwick, near Preston in Lancashire, England (grid reference SD468315). The site is currently operated by Springfields Fuels Limited, under the management of Westinghouse Electric UK Limited, on a 150-year lease from the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. Since its conversion from a munitions factory in 1946, it has previously been operated and managed by a number of different organisations including the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority and British Nuclear Fuels. Fuel products are produced for the UK’s nuclear power stations and for international customers.

Steam-generating heavy water reactor

Steam Generating Heavy Water Reactor (SGHWR) is a United Kingdom design for commercial nuclear reactors. It is similar to the Canadian CANDU reactor designs in that it uses a low-pressure reactor vessel containing high-pressure piping for the coolant, which reduces construction costs and complexity.

SGHWR was a heavy water moderated reactor, which used ordinary (light) water as coolant, in contrast with earlier UK designs that used graphite moderators which led to very large reactor sizes. Unlike CANDU, the SGHWR uses slightly enriched uranium fuel, which allows for higher burnup and more economical fuel cycles. The modern CANDU ACR-1000 reactor design uses a similar concept, as does the Italian CIRENE, hosted at Latina Nuclear Power Plant.

Only a single SGHWR was ever built, the small 100 MW prototype reactor at Winfrith, often known simply as the "Winfrith Reactor". It was connected to the grid in 1967 and ceased operation in 1990 after 23 successful years. [1] It was owned by the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority. Decommissioning is now being carried out by Magnox Ltd on behalf of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.

A similar design was the Gentilly Nuclear Generating Station in Quebec, but this was not successful and shut down after a short lifetime.

UK Atomic Energy Authority Constabulary

The United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority Constabulary was the armed security police force of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority. The force existed for 50 years, until 1 April 2005.

On 1 April 2005, the Civil Nuclear Constabulary (CNC) was established in adherence to the Energy Act 2004, replacing the UKAEA Constabulary largely because a number of nuclear sites were poorly guarded, and that a force with more specialist attributes was needed to combat the possibility of terrorist threats. The force is now made up of 650 armed personnel (the majority of whom were from the UKAEA Constabulary), protecting sixteen atomic sites and protecting transportation of nuclear materials around the United Kingdom.

University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies

The University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS, yoo-TY-əs) is an advanced research facility for aeronautics and aerospace engineering, located in the Downsview district of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Established in 1949 by founding Director Gordon N. Patterson, the institute is managed by the University of Toronto Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering and mainly receives funding from governmental agencies such as the National Research Council, the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Space Agency. Notable international sponsors include the European Space Agency, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Max-Planck-Institut für Plasmaphysik, NASA Ames Research Center and the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority.

Non-reactor sites
Executive agencies
Research councils


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