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UK Atomic Energy Authority

This page summarises records created by this Organisation

The summary includes a brief description of the collection(s) (usually including the covering dates of the collection), the name of the archive where they are held, and reference information to help you find the collection.

Date: 1939-2010

The United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) was established in 1954 by the Atomic Energy Act. The functions of the authority covered the entire field of atomic energy and radioactive substances. The authority was a public corporation with a board consisting of a chairman and between 7 and 10 members appointed by the Lord President of the Council, who also had powers of supervision and intervention. The Lord President of the Council was directly responsible to Parliament for the authority's activities.

In April 1957, the Lord President of the Council's functions with regard to the authority were transferred to the Prime Minister; they then passed jointly to the Lord Privy Seal and the Minister for Science in October 1959, and to the Secretary of State for Education and Science in April 1964. The Science and Technology Act 1965 made the Minister of Technology responsible to Parliament for general atomic energy policy and for monies provided for the authority. These functions subsequently passed to the Department of Trade and Industry in October 1970, and the Department of Energy in January 1974.

In 1959, the Atomic Energy Authority Act enhanced the powers of the authority and enlarged the board: the authority was allowed to undertake research and development in fields other than nuclear power if required to do so by the appropriate minister; and membership of the board was increased to fifteen. A management committee, the Atomic Energy Executive, composed of the chairman and full-time members was also established.

Up to 1965, the work of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority had been related to the areas delineated in the Act of 1954, but in 1965, the Science and Technology Act empowered the Authority to undertake approved projects outside the immediate nuclear field if they could be shown to be commercially viable. The Atomic Energy Executive referred viable projects, emanating from any of the divisions, to the Minister of Technology for approval and initiation.

Major changes in the authority's functions took place over the next few years. In 1971, the government made known its intention to transfer responsibility for the Weapons Group to the Ministry of Defence. This took effect under the Atomic Energy Authority (Weapons Group) Act, of 1973. Also in 1971, the Atomic Energy Authority Act, transferred the authority's fuel and isotope businesses to publicly owned companies, respectively British Nuclear Fuels Limited (BNFL) and The Radiochemical Centre Ltd (subsequently Amersham International plc). The authority remained the sole shareholder of both these companies. In 1981 the authority's one hundred per cent shareholding was transferred to the Secretary of State for Energy.

  • Culham, Oxfordshire
  • Harwell, Berkshire
  • Risley, Derbyshire
  • Trawsfynydd, Merionethshire
  • Winfrith Newburgh, Dorset
  • Dounreay, Caithness
Sources of authority: The National Archives catalogue
Functions, occupations and activities: Government (central)

From 1954, the UKAEA continued the broad division of responsibility which it inherited from the Ministry of Supply, maintaining an Industrial Group centred in Risley, a research Group based at Harwell (including the Radiochemical Centre at Amersham), and a Weapons Group located at Aldermaston, and a London Office responsible for general administrative and financial matters.

The recommendations of committees of inquiry appointed to inquire into an accident at Windscale in October 1957 led to changes in the structure of the authority's management and the structure of its Industrial Group.

By 1970, the authority was organised into three broad divisions: Central Services, comprising the London Office and Culcheth, in Cheshire, where the authority's Safety and Reliability Directorate was based; Reactor Group, with headquarters in Risley, and consisting of the Atomic Energy Establishment at Winfrith and the laboratories at Springfields, Risley and Windscale; and Research Group, based at the Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Harwell, and including the Culham Laboratory.

From April 1977, a new structure came into effect, appropriate to the authority's much reduced functions. The former three-fold division between Central Services, Reactor Group and Research Group was replaced with a five-fold division consisting of the London headquarters (with the Safety and Reliability Directorate at Culcheth), the Northern Division, and research establishments at Harwell, Winfrith and Culham.

Health and Safety Branch

In January 1958 the Fleck Committee, set up after the Windscale accident of October 1957, published its report on the organisation for the control of health and safety in the authority. In July 1959 a Health and Safety Branch, independent of group control, was formed as part of the authority's headquarters organisation, and separate health and safety organisations in each group headquarters were eliminated. The functions of the new branch were: to advise the authority on the formulation of its health and safety policy; to apply this policy to the assessment and inspection of reactors and plants, including laboratories; and to provide the focal point from which the authority's external relations in the health and safety field could be conducted.

The branch had three divisions: a Safety Division, based at Risley, responsible for assessing the safety of reactors and plants, and for providing an inspection service; a Radiological Protection Division, based at Harwell, which was concerned with radiation and other hazards affecting authority employees and the public; and an Administrative Division which provided general services to the two technical divisions, and dealt with the non-technical work of the branch, including liaison with government departments.

In April 1971, the Safety Division of the Health and Safety Branch was renamed the Safety and Reliability Directorate. Its functions were to advise the authority on the formulation of health and safety policy, to apply this to the assessment and inspection of authority reactors and plant, and to provide advice and services to government departments and others, including the Health and Safety Executive. The directorate was concerned with developing technology to establish the safety of plants, and the safety and reliability of other industrial processes.

Name authority reference: GB/NNAF/C218828
Number Description Held by Reference Further information
1939-2010: corresp, reports and papers
The National Archives