United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority

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Nuclear spin.png This article is part of the Nuclear Spin project of Spinwatch.

The United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) carries out nuclear fusion power research in the UK on behalf of the government. It is an executive non-departmental public body of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

It also manages the records service for the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) at Harwell, and owns land at both the Harwell and Culham sites in Oxfordshire, "where thriving science parks have been set up".


The UKAEA was established in 1954 by the UK government to oversee the country's nuclear research programme and development of the industry. In 1956 Calder Hall was commissioned by the UKAEA, turning UK into "the first country in the world to adopt nuclear power on an industrial and commercial scale". In 1957 after a fire at Windscale, a nuclear complex near Calder Hall, which reportedly caused "32 deaths and 260 cases of cancer" from the leaked radiation, UKAEA changed its name to Sellafield. In 1971 BNFL, the authority's production arm, split off from the UKAEA.[1]

From April 2005 until 2009, UKAEA worked under contract to the government's Nuclear Decommissioning Authority to decommission old nuclear plants. According to The Guardian, it undertook a £8bn project to dismantle 26 research reactors and bury nuclear waste. [2]

In September 2009, the Babcock International Group paid £50 million for the UKAEA's commercial clean-up business, UKAEA Ltd, reportedly narrowly outbidding AMEC and Babcock & Wilcox.[3] Babcock is also now part of a consortium with CH2M HILL, International Nuclear Services Ltd, and URS International Holdings (UK) Ltd that in April 2012 was awarded a £1.6bn contract by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority for the management and decommissioning of the Dounreay nuclear site in Caithness, Scotland.[4]

UKAEA's record at Dounreay

Since 2010 the UKAEA has commissioned a range of current and historical short films about its work at Dounreay. Most recently in August 2013 it screened a short video about 'the story of the people who worked behind the scenes at Dounreay, supporting the scientists and engineers. It focuses on the two-year courses provided by the UKAEA for young men and women, training them for secretarial and clerical posts at the nuclear research facility'. [5]

Not surprisingly, none of the incidents mentioned below are included in the films.

A cover-up

In 2005, a cementation plant at Dounreay, a UKAEA facility, was closed after the spillage of hazardous, dissolved spent fuel and an investigation started. According to the Times, "the discovery of nuclear particles on neighbouring beaches has led to calls for a full public inquiry into the scale of pollution at the site, while the UKAEA has been accused of a cover-up". The prototype fast reactor at Dounreay was already shut down in 1994.[6]

This was the second scare in less than a year to hit the plant. According to the Daily Mail, a Dounreay spokesman "confirmed that eight workers were being tested for suspected plutonium intake". The lab was already shut down the previous year "following a similar alarm involving 15 workers...In August, UKAEA started refresher courses following a number of radiation scares, during which contamination was detected on five workers in a week."[7]

A PR stunt

In February 2006, The Times also reported how Geoffrey Minter, the owner of the Sandside estate near the Dounreay plant had banned UKAEA scientists from his land, saying that he no longer believed the UKAEA was serious about cleaning up radioactive material from the beach. Minter said he had withdrawn consent to the use of his land because the sampling exercise had degenerated into "a public relations stunt" intended "merely to give people the impression that the UKAEA was tackling the underlying hazard".[8][9]

UKAEA takes its radioactive leaks on tour

In February 2006, the Authority was fined £250,000 for allowing a containment flask which contained decommissioned cancer treatment equipment to be driven 130 miles across northern England with a vital protective plug missing. Leeds Crown Court heard it was "pure good fortune" that no-one was exposed to the beam of gamma radiation, due to the fact that it happened to be pointing downwards. The court reportedly heard that the levels of radiation measured when the leak was discovered were up to 1,000 times over what would be considered a very high dose.[10][11]

Spin doctors

UKAEA has previously commissioned the services of the following PR consultancy companies:

In 2006, NuclearSpin applied for details of UKAEA's lobbying and public relations activities, under the Freedom of Information Act. But UKAEA refused to reveal the information, stating that its release 'would prejudice the commercial interests of the consultants'.[12]

Key people

Chief Executive Steve Cowley
Chairman Roger Cashmore
Chief Operating Officer Martin Cox
Director, Safety & Assurance John Crofts
Chief Financial Officer Eric Hollis

Former staff and board members include:

Chairmen Barbara Thomas Judge and John Collier
Chief Executive Dipesh Shah
Chief Financial Officer Andrew Jackson
Director of Major Projects and Engineering Colin Bayliss
Director of Safety and Assurance John Crofts

Contact details

United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority
Culham Science Centre
Oxfordshire OX14 3DB
United Kingdom
Website: www.uk-atomic-energy.org.uk


  1. Tim Webb, "Analysis: Nuclear haze",Independent on Sunday, 27 November, 2005 (subscription required).
  2. Paul Brown, Ancient Egypt provides key to storing nuclear heritage, The Guardian, 9 August, 2005.
  3. Babcock buys nuclear clean-up arm for £50m, The Telegraph, acc 15 August 2012
  4. Dounreay Site Restoration PBO Competition, Nuclear Decommissioning Authority 2nd April 2012, accessed August 2012 and Amec and Energy Solutions combine to bid for Dounreay clean-up contract, Amec Press Release 20th May 2010
  5. Mightier than the Sword, Dounreay TV, acc 30 October 2013
  6. David Lister, Nuclear tests amid fears of another leak, The Times, 18 October, 2005.
  7. Ian Grant, "Dounreay rocked by further nuclear scare", The Daily Mail, 17 October, 2005.
  8. 'Landowner bans nuclear testing', The Times, 15 February, 2006.
  9. Sandside Estate, Sandside Owner Expels Nuclear Chiefs From Contaminated Beach, 14 February 2006, accessed 29 October 2012
  10. "Lorry leaked radioactive beam for three hours", Daily Telegraph, 18 February, 2006.
  11. "Firm is fined £250,000 for radioactive leak on lorry", Daily Telegraph, 21 February, 2006.
  12. Letter from Andrew Munn, UKAEA's Deputy Head of Communications, 24 April, 2006.