Atomic Energy Research Establishment

The Atomic Energy Research Establishment ( AERE or colloquially Harwell ) at Harwell in Didcot was from the 1940s to the 1990s, the main center for atomic energy research and development in the UK.


In 1945, John Cockcroft was commissioned to set up a research laboratory for the use of nuclear fission for military purposes and to produce energy. The criteria for selection were in a secluded location with a good water supply but within easy reach and with good transport links to university with a nuclear physics laboratory. Thus, the choice was more or less limited to the vicinity of Oxford or Cambridge. RAF airfield was selected because the existing aircraft hangars were considered ideal to build a large nuclear reactor. Although the University of Cambridge in the Cavendish Laboratory at that time had the better nuclear physics equipment, wanted the RAF because of the new threat posed by the emerging Cold War did not waive its strategically located airfields. Therefore Harwell was chosen, and the RAF provided the local airfield available.

On January 1, 1946, the Atomic Energy Research Establishment was established under the Ministry of Supply. The scientists took over both accommodations and work buildings after the withdrawal of the RAF.

The reactors

The interest in nuclear energy was in the early days of the AERE so large that the first reactor, Gleep (Graphite Low Energy Experimental Pile), already on 15th August 1947 could be ramped up. Gleep was a low-power reactor (3 kW) with graphite-moderated air-cooled fuel rods. He was the first reactor in Western Europe and was remarkably durable, so that it could be operated until 1990.

A successor to Gleep called BEPO (British Experimental Pile 0) was built based on the experiences with Gleep and put into operation in 1948. BEPO was turned off in 1968.

LIDO was a pool reactor for enriched uranium, which was operated from 1956 to 1972 and was mainly used for shielding and nuclear physics experiments. He was completely dismantled in 1995, and redesigned the site again in a green meadow.

A pair of larger 26 MW reactors, DIDO and Pluto, which used enriched uranium in heavy water as moderators, were 1956 and 1957 for the first time up. These small reactors were used primarily for testing the behavior of various materials under intense neutron irradiation to decide which materials can be used in the reactor - component construction. Samples were irradiated for a few months to simulate the radiation dose they receive over the lifetime of a power reactor. The reactor was used for the commercial production of isotopes of BEPO reactor. DIDO and Pluto were both taken in 1990 out of service and all fuels, moderators and outbuildings removed. The Gleep reactor and the hangar where he was located, were closed down in 2005. It is planned to decommission the reactors BEPO, DIDO and PLUTO 2020.

The ZETA fusion experiment

One of the most important experiments was the ZETA fusion reactor study. He was an early attempt to build a large-scale nuclear fusion reactor, the project was started in 1954, and the first successes were achieved in 1957. In 1958 the project was shut down, as it was believed that no further progress with the ZETA principle could be made.

Organizational Changes

The A.E.R.E. initially had several departments: Chemistry ( initially headed by Egon Bretscher, later by Robert Spence ), General Physics ( HWB Skinner ), Nuclear Physics ( initially, later headed by Otto Frisch by Egon Bretscher ), Reactor Physics ( John Dunworth ), Theoretical Physics ( Klaus Fuchs, later Brian Flowers), isotopes (Henry Seligmann ) and Engineering ( Harold tongue, later Robert Jackson). Following John Cockcroft Basil Even country Arthur Vick and Walter Marshall were directors.

In 1954, the A.E.R.E. was transferred to the newly formed United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority ( UKAEA ). Harwell and other laboratories took over the responsibility for the research and development of nuclear energy. They were placed under the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI ).

In the 1980s, the weakening of the British nuclear program led to a greatly reduced demand for the type of work carried out by UKAEA work. The pressure on government spending reduced the funds available. It was not willing A.E.R.E. with its high -quality scientific research simply dissolve, so the UKAEA was required to direct their research efforts on the solution of scientific problems for industry by offering paid advice or services.

The UKAEA was asked to become financially independent, as if it were a private company, although they still remained fully state-owned. After several years of transition, the UKAEA was divided in the early 1990s. The UKAEA retained ownership of the land, the infrastructure and all nuclear plants and the companies that dealt directly with nuclear energy. The remainder was privatized as AEA Technology and traded on the London Stock Exchange. The Harwell Laboratory contained thereupon elements of both organizations, although the country and the infrastructure owned by UKAEA.

The name Atomic Energy Research Establishment was dropped at the same time, and the area was renamed in Harwell International Business Centre. There is the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, which the Science and Technology Facilities Council is home including the ISIS neutron source and Diamond Light Source. In 2006, the name Harwell Science and Innovation Campus was introduced. In February 2009 became a part of the campus, the remaining nuclear facilities, passed to Research Sites Restoration Limited ( RSRL ) that will shut down the remaining assets on behalf of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. The management of another campus was the Goodman Group, an international real estate group transferred.