New lab marks resurgence of UK research

01 February 2007

As the privatised UK power sector begins attempts to renew its nuclearfleet, its skills base is being renewed by investment and restructuring.

It was announced on 29 January that £20 million ($39.4 million) in funding was being made available for a new nuclear research laboratory in the UK. It will include accelerators and experimental equipment to study the irradiation damage and effects on materials and chemical systems used in nuclear environments, as well as "cutting-edge" computational modelling and simulation tools.

The funding commitment is split evenly between the Dalton Institute at the University of Manchester, and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA).

Initially, around 60 staff and postgraduate students will work at the centre, which will be located at the Westlakes Science and Technology Park, near Whitehaven in West Cumbria. A joint Dalton Institute and NDA press release said the centre "will have close links with the existing British Technology Centre (BTC) at Sellafield, which is managed by Nexia Solutions, and its links to the recently announced National Nuclear Laboratory."

Professor Richard Clegg, director of the Dalton Institute said, "The investment is a significant step towards co-ordinating the UK's nuclear research base."

UK scientists were among the pioneers of nuclear power and went on to design two successful generations of nuclear power station. Over the years, several waves of restructuring have taken place, leaving - broadly speaking - fusion and decommissioning skills consolidated at the UK Atomic Energy Authority, with research, development and power generation technology skills at BNFL. Now state-owned BNFL is being gradually broken up for sale and its larger former departments set up as separate companies.

Nexia, with a workforce of 750, now represents the main part of UK research and development capability. Currently still part of BNFL, it is widely expected to remain in government hands.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, charged with managing and cleaning up the UK's legacy sites, has a mandate from government to take the lead in maintaining a strong indigenous capability in nuclear science. It established the need for a national academy in its strategy document.

Meanwhile, the Dalton Institute leads the Nuclear Technology Education Consortium of 11 establishments. In September 2006 it accepted the first students to a new doctorate in Nuclear Engineering; it is currently recruiting five professors in nuclear science; and is talking to the nuclear industry about its plans for a Reactor Technology Centre.

Professor Clegg said: "The signing of the agreement with NDA is an extremely important development in our ambition to make the University of Manchester into one of the world's most prestigious nuclear research and education centres."

Further information

Nexia Solutions

The Dalton Institute
Nuclear Decommissioning Authority
Westlakes Research Institute

WNA's Nuclear Power in the United Kingdom information paper