News story

Museums to share historic control room

The story of Dounreay’s Fast Reactor will be shared with millions of museum visitors after its control room was donated to two internationally renowned collections.

Dounreay's Fast Reactor control room in 1959
Dounreay's Fast Reactor control room in 1959

In a rare joint acquisition, National Museums Scotland and the Science Museum in London will both own the control room, displaying it at different times as part of a Dounreay exhibition.

Designated ‘of national significance’ by Historic Scotland and National Museums Scotland, the control room will be preserved for display to future generations. The display will reference Caithness and the story of Dounreay’s industrial heritage.

In a curious historical connection, the daughter of Dounreay’s first permanent employee was one of the signatories to the memorandum of understanding outlining the donation agreement. Jane Carmichael, now retired as Director of Collections for National Museums Scotland, is the daughter of Donald Carmichael, who was the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority’s works secretary at the site.

Dounreay’s experimental fast breeder reactor once led British nuclear research. Housed inside a steel sphere, it was built to test the fast breeder concept, started operating in 1959 and, in 1962, became the first fast reactor in the world to provide electricity to a national grid.

The operators controlled the reactor systems from a room next to the sphere. The control room contained an operator’s desk and 14 panels along three sides of the room.

The wall panels were dismantled and packed into two containers, while the control desk had to be cut into three sections to get it out of the building and placed in a separate container.

James Gunn, DSRL’s heritage officer, said:

The Science Museum and National Museums Scotland receive over 5.6 million visitors every year and the sharing of our unique industrial heritage with museums that are world renowned for their historic collections and exhibitions is a fantastic opportunity for Dounreay.

The Dounreay Materials Test Reactor control room was recently transferred to local museum and five-star visitor attraction Caithness Horizons, where it forms part of a new Dounreay exhibition.

Published 11 August 2015