What we do

The UK Atomic Energy Authority carries out fusion research in the UK on behalf of the government and manages the JET fusion project on behalf of the EU at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy (CCFE).

The United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) carries out fusion research in the UK on behalf of the government. Nuclear fusion, the process that powers the Sun, can play a big part in our carbon-free energy future. The Culham Centre for Fusion Energy (CCFE) is one of the world’s leading fusion research laboratories. Our scientists and engineers are working with partners around the globe to develop fusion as a new source of clean energy for tomorrow’s power stations.

In addition, we are responsible for several civil nuclear pension schemes, and own land at the Harwell-Oxford and Culham Science Centre sites in Oxfordshire and are committed to furher develop these thriving science, technology and business parks.

Evolution of the UK Atomic Energy Authority

Early Years

The UK Atomic Energy Authority was formed in 1954 when the British Government set up a new body to oversee the nation’s nuclear research programme. The role was to provide Britain’s atomic weapons deterrent and develop reactor technologies for the nuclear power stations of the future.

Early achievements included the opening of the world’s first full-scale nuclear power station at Calder Hall - which led to the construction of ten further Magnox stations - and the Dounreay Fast Reactor, which went critical in 1959.

The Authority was also exploring the potential of nuclear fusion, and opened a purpose-built fusion laboratory at Culham in 1960.

Diversification

From 1965, the Authority branched out into commercial and non-nuclear activities to take advantage of spin-off potential from nuclear technology. The atomic research programme also continued, with the Authority leading plans for new reactor types including advanced gas-cooled reactors and fast reactors.

A reorganisation of the UK’s civil nuclear industry in the early 1970s saw changes to the Authority’s structure and role. The transfer of responsibilities in weapons research, fuel production, isotope production and radiological protection to other organisations allowed us to focus on our research mission.

Commercial activities continued to grow across the sites, with Harwell alone generating £50 million per year from over 1,200 contracts by 1985. They covered a diverse range of areas, from space tribology to petroleum services and reactor safety testing. AEA Technology was formed in 1989 to act as the Authority’s commercial arm, and was eventually privatised in 1996.

Decommissioning

The civil nuclear programme ended with the closure of the Prototype Fast Reactor at Dounreay in 1994. The Authority had already turned its attention to a new task - that of restoring the environment of its sites as reactors finished operating. Since then we have made extensive progress, and in 2005 we safely dismantled our fifteenth reactor - ZEBRA - at Winfrith.

In April 2005 the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) was formed to take responsibility for the UK’s civil nuclear clean-up programme. The Authority became a contractor to the NDA for management of decommissioning at Dounreay, Harwell, Windscale, Winfrith and the JET facilities at Culham. Also in 2005, the Government approved the Authority’s plans to expand and compete for wider business.

In April 2008, UKAEA Limited was formed as a commercial arm, subsidiary company Dounreay Site Restoration Limited (DSRL) was licensed by the NII, and the Windscale site was merged into the newly licensed Sellafield Limited. This was followed in February 2009 by the licensing of subsidiary company Research Sites Restoration Limited (RSRL), covering the Harwell and Winfrith sites.

Following a sale process announced by Government in March 2009, UKAEA Limited, together with its subsidiary companies DSRL and RSRL, were sold to Babcock International Group PLC on 31st October 2009.

Fusion

The Authority’s tradition of leading edge research continues at Culham, where fusion scientists from around the globe are developing fusion as a new energy source. Culham has hosted the JET (Joint European Torus) facility since its design started in 1973. Approval for its construction at Culham as a European Joint Undertaking was given in 1978. First operation was in 1983 and since then it has set world records for plasma performance. The JET Joint Undertaking ceased at the end of 1999 and since then the Authority has operated JET under a contract with the European Commission on behalf of the European Fusion Development Agreement (EFDA). The MAST facility is leading the world in research into tight aspect ratio tokamaks.

In 2009, the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy (CCFE) was announced as the new organisation taking fusion research forward in the UK.

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