John Beddington

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Sir John Beddington CMG, Kt, FRS (born 13 October 1945) was the Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government and Head of the Government Office for Science (GO-S) from January 2008 until March 2013, when he was succeeded by Mark Walport.

An expert in applied population biology, Beddington is now a senior adviser and Professor of Natural Resources Management at the Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford.


Beddington played a key role in helping the UK government devise its response to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011 through his role as chair of the National Security Council Science Advisory Group and the Science Advisory Group in Emergencies reporting into the COBR Committee. Other emergencies he dealt with included the pandemic influenza outbreak in 2009 and the volcanic ash closure of UK air space in 2010.

Pro-nuclear activities

In 2012-13 Professor Beddington led a panel of senior scientists calling for UK investment in nuclear technologies. The group's report published in March 2013 to coincide with the launch of the UK government's strategy, made recommendations 'to help rejuvenate the UK's nuclear industry and keep the lights on over coming decades'. Commenting on this work, Beddington said:

I am convinced that nuclear power will play a pivotal role in the UK’s energy future. The requirement for nuclear power may exceed current plans for new build, perhaps substantially. It’s therefore crucial that we keep a wide range of technological options open so that we are able to meet this potential demand in a safe and sustainable manner. Today’s announcements on R&D and on skills are the first steps in doing exactly that.
One of the conclusions of my work last year was that important research in the UK could be hindered through lack of access to the right facilities. I am therefore delighted that significant funding has been allocated today to provide those facilities in the future." New funding includes £15 million for a new world class National Nuclear Users Facility and £12.5 million to join the Jules Horowitz Test Reactor which is being constructed in France to test materials for nuclear fusion applications. [1]

The expert group included, among others: Professor David McKay, Chief Scientific Adviser to the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC); Professor John Perkins, Chief Scientific Adviser to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and former Principal of Imperial's Faculty of Engineering, and Professor Robin Grimes.

PM's 2012 Far East trade nuclear lobbying tour

In April 2012, Beddington joined UK prime minister David Cameron on his travels to Japan, Indonesia and Malaysia as part of a four-day tour of east and south-east Asia. He was travelling with a 40-strong delegation of business representatives to boost trade opportunities for the UK. [2] The group included six defence contractors, along with representatives from the Nuclear Industry Association, International Nuclear Services, the National Nuclear Laboratory, and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. [3] Cameron was pushing Britain's expertise in nuclear decommissioning, in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. As Cameron explained:

Looking to the future, we want to continue to support the Japanese as they reconstruct the Tohoku region and tackle the challenges of the nuclear clean-up. British companies have significant expertise in nuclear decommissioning and clean-up, with 19 nuclear sites in the UK currently being managed through the process. I really think that concrete experience can be of direct benefit to Japan.' [4]

Meeting nuclear companies

In September 2012 Beddington met with GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy. The only detail recorded about the meeting by BIS was that its purpose was 'to discuss science'. He also met with Rolls Royce the same month on the same issue. [5]

Role as chief scientist

From his biography on the Oxford Martin School website:

Sir John... reported directly to the Prime Minister and attended Cabinet Sub-committees and, on occasion, Cabinet. He had access to and numerous interactions with various Secretaries of State and his formal reporting line was to the Cabinet Secretary. He was Head of Profession for Science and Engineering in Government and founded the Government Science and Engineering Network. He headed the group of Chief Scientific Advisers in Government.
He chaired the National Security Council Science Advisory Group and the Science Advisory Group in Emergencies reporting into the COBR Committee. His experience was in three rather different emergencies: the pandemic influenza outbreak in 2009, the volcanic ash closure of UK air space in 2010 and problems linked to the earthquake and tsunami affecting the nuclear plants in Fukushima in Japan in 2011.
He directed the Foresight team which had the responsibility to look forward and assess implications for major challenges in the future. Typical timescales ranged from 10 to as much as 40 years. The reports produced by the Foresight team are substantial, typically projects may involve some 400 contributors from around 40 countries. The subjects studied are highly variable and involve substantial multi-disciplinary work.
Since taking up this position, the following reports were published: The Future of Identity (2013); Computer Trading in Financial Markets (2012); Migration and Global Environmental Change (2011); International Dimensions of Climate Change (2011); Global Food and Farming Future (2011); Land Use Futures (2010); Mental Capital and Wellbeing (2008); Sustainable Energy Management and the Built Environment (2008).
Sir John co-chaired with Dame Nancy Rothwell the PM’s Council for Science and Technology. This group is the main advisory group to the PM and it produced in the last few years a number of significant reports in response to requests from the PM and Cabinet. Some examples are: The NHS as a driver for growth (2011), A Vision for UK Research (2010), A national infrastructure for the 21st century (2010), Improving innovation in the water industry: 21st century challenges and opportunities (2009) and How academia and government can work together (2008).
Sir John was involved in heading the UK delegation to a number of joint science and technology commissions with a variety of countries. The key ones were with Japan, Russia, Brazil, China, India, Vietnam and Thailand. In addition, there were clear links with the USA where he interacted regularly with his counterpart, John Holdren, who is the Science Adviser to President Obama.
During 2011, at the request of the World Bank, he chaired an International Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change. [6]

Post Government roles

In 2013 Beddington sought permission from the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments so take up seven posts:

All of the applications were approved subject to conditions being met, including the, "condition that for two years from his last day of service, Sir John should not become personally involved in lobbying the UK Government on behalf of his new employers or their clients".[7]





  1. Simon Levey, Senior scientists call for UK investment in nuclear technologies, Imperial College London Science News, 28 March 2013, acc Sept 2013
  2. Nicholas Watt, David Cameron seeks slice of Japanese defence contracts on Tokyo trip, The Guardian, Tuesday 10 April 2012, accessed 3 September 2012
  3. Prime Minister's Trip to South East Asia, delegation list
  4. 'Konichiwa Dave': Cameron flies flag for Britain as he arrives in Japan on first stop of South East Asian trade mission, Daily Mail, 10 April 2012 | UPDATED: 12:15 GMT, 10 April 2012
  6. Professor Sir John Beddington CMG FRS, Senior Adviser, Oxford Martin School website, undated, acc 10 Sept 2013
  7. Approval letter: Sir John Beddington, seven appointments Gov.UK, 14 May 2013, accessed 29 January 2015