Dounreay documents set for nuclear archive

A STAGGERING 250 tonnes of historic documents, charting the development of Britain’s first fast-breeder nuclear reactor at Dounreay, will be among the first items to be stored in the new National Nuclear Archive to be built in Caithness, it was revealed today.

Margaret Thatcher in the control room in 1979. Picture: Alan Milligan
Margaret Thatcher in the control room in 1979. Picture: Alan Milligan

The £20 million national archive centre for the nuclear industry is to be built close to Wick Airport, near the Dounreay experimental power complex, and will eventually house an estimated 30 million digital, paper and photographic records from civil nuclear sites throughout the UK, dating back to the 1940s.

The archive will include records from the UK Atomic Energy Authority in Harwell where the Atomic Energy Research Establishment, the UK centre for research and development into civil nuclear power, was first based.

A spokesman for the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) said that the new archive building would be open for business by 2016, just in time for the majority of the documents in the Dounreay archive to be moved offsite, before the existing archive building is vacated.

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    Dounreay Atomic Power Station in 1952

    Ian Pearson, the Dounreay archivist, explained that the site’s archive currently held 250 tonnes of records which if laid out would stretch nearly two-and-a-half miles. Some of these date back to the early days on construction and operation of Dounreay.

    Nigel Lowe, the NDA’s director for Dounreay, said: “Locating the archive in Wick is part of the NDA’s commitment to this area in the post-Dounreay era. History has shown that similar legacies in other industries and other areas have always stood the test of time.”

    He added: “I feel very privileged that this has fallen on my watch.”

    John Thurso, the MP for Caithness, welcomed the announcement. He said: “This is an important decision by the NDA and fulfils the promise made to site the archive in Wick.

    The local campaign on the future of the plant in 1986. Picture: Hamish Campbell

    “It is also an important development which will provide quality employment with an opportunity for growth in the future, as well as potential for working with other partners.”

    David Flear, chairman of the Dounreay Stakeholder Group, said: “This is a good news story for both Wick and the Highlands. It also creates much needed jobs in construction and long-term positions for archivists and trainees.

    “It’s wonderful and I’m absolutely delighted the NDA chose Wick for this project. This is an important part of the NDA’s socioeconomic commitment to the area.”

    An NDA spokesman explained: “Bringing the National Nuclear Archive to Caithness is just part of the NDA’s commitment to the area which has seen it spend more than £10m on support for local projects.

    “The building will be sited adjacent to Wick airport on land provided by Highland Council. The state-of-the-art venue will provide research facilities as well as a new home for the North Highland Archive, which has outgrown its current location inside Wick’s Carnegie Building. It will be accessible to visiting members of the public as well as via electronic searches.”

    He added: “NDA will now seek a commercial organisation to manage the records and facilities on its behalf. The procurement process is expected to be kicked off within the next few months.”