News story

Doors open at unique nuclear archive

A unique new archive, funded by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, has today opened its doors to the public for the first time, bringing together historical nuclear records from all over the UK.

Nucleus archive in Wick, Caithness
Nucleus archive in Wick, Caithness

Speaking today at the Nucleus (Nuclear and Caithness Archive) in Wick, NDA chairman Stephen Henwood, said:

Today we see a new chapter in the important role Caithness has played in the UK’s nuclear history. For many decades Dounreay was at the forefront of the development of the British, and world, nuclear industry and now Nucleus will see this knowledge protected for future generations.

NDA Chief Executive John Clarke added:

Across the UK, at over 17 sites, we have accumulated large volumes of important and valuable records, some dating back to the 1940s. Now we have Nucleus, we have ensured that this information is accessible, secure, and managed efficiently for the taxpayer.

At its peak, Dounreay employed more than 3,000 staff and brought a wide range of contracts for local businesses. By placing Nucleus in Wick, the NDA is honouring our responsibility to help offset the economic impact of closing down sites that were once major regional employers.

Located near one the UK’s earliest nuclear research sites, Dounreay in Scotland, the Nucleus archive will have a dual role: as well as housing nuclear records, the facility will contain a collection of local Scottish records that has outgrown its existing home.

An exercise lasting at least five years is now under way to collect many thousands of important plans, photographs, drawings and other records from locations across the UK for transfer to Nucleus.

The site’s records – including plans, drawings, photographs and other information - will be the first nuclear collection transferred to Nucleus from the 17 NDA sites. The Caithness collection, with records dating back to the 16th century, are already in place.

Up to 26 km of shelving has been installed in a series of secure pods to take the material and ensure it is preserved. Nucleus will employ a staff of approximately 20 including archivists, preservation experts and support staff.

An operation has already been under way for a number of years to retrieve, collate and organise the huge quantities of records that are currently stored at or near individual sites.
It is hoped that, during 2017, Nucleus will be granted Place of Deposit status by The National Archive at Kew.

Once achieved, it will become one of the largest accredited repositories outside London.

An official opening ceremony will take place later in the year.

Archive material will be catalogued, indexed and stored in a carefully controlled environment, with humidity and temperature kept stable to minimise the potential for deterioration.

Old decaying documents will be transferred to archive-quality paper by on-site preservation specialists, and digitised for improved accessibility.

It is anticipated that interest in the nuclear material will be overwhelmingly from academics, regulators, journalists, industry representatives and all other researchers. The information will be provided digitally, wherever possible, avoiding risks of damage to the original material.

The triangular single-storey building has a large public area, including a reading room and community space for exhibitions, study or training.

The archive will also fulfil an important role for the future geological disposal facility (GDF) that is being developed for the UK, acting as a central repository for detailed waste records that must be safeguarded for many generations.

Discussions are also under way with the wider nuclear industry, including the Ministry of Defence, new build developers and operators of the UK’s current nuclear power stations, to potentially consolidate their records at Nucleus.

Nucleus Archive - video showing construction progress

Case study: NDA archive: Nucleus (the Nuclear and Caithness Archives)

Published 14 February 2017