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UKAEA

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1964. Reprocessing plant.
1964. Pile cap of AGR.

The United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority is a UK government research organisation

1954 The authority was established on 19 July 1954 when the Atomic Energy Authority Act 1954 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”.

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

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.

The Industrial Group Risley comprised laboratories at Culcheth, Capenhurst, Windscale, Springfields and Dounreay, plus factories at Springfields, Capenhurst, Windscale, Calder, Dounreay and Chapelcross, as well as the Risley headquarters.

1971 Following the Atomic Energy Authority Act 1971, the authority was split into three:

  • research activities remained with UKAEA - including AERE - Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Harwell
  • the Radiochemical Centre took over production of medical and industrial radioisotopes.
  • British Nuclear Fuels (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,
    • the dual-purpose Calder Hall and Chapelcross military plutonium producing reactors.

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

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

1982 The Radiochemical Centre was privatised as Amersham International.

1986 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.

1995 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 programme, which held large decommissioning liabilities, were retained by the government. The role of the UKAEA 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.

2005 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.

2008 On 1 April, 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 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 (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.

2009 On 2 February 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, the Babcock International Group acquired UKAEA Limited, the nuclear clean-up subsidiary of the authority, including its subsidiary companies DSRL and RSRL.

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


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