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NIWB Seminar: Berkeley Nuclear Laboratories Group

In collaboration with the Nuclear Institute Western Branch, UWE Bristol will host an evening seminar looking at the history of the work carried out at the Berkeley Power station and the activities being carried out there today.

Key information

  • Tuesday 12th November 2019
  • Tea and Coffee 18:00 for a 18:30 start
  • Room 2B20, B Block, University of the West of England, Frenchay Campus, Coldharbour Lane, Bristol, BS16 1QY
  • Speaker: Geoff Wheeler, Berkeley Nuclear Laboratories Group


The event starts at 6pm for refreshments with the talk beginning at 6.30pm.

Please register via the eventbrite page.

Register on Eventbrite

Talk synopsis

When the Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB) was set up in 1957 to run the power stations in England and Wales it was expected that the electricity supply industry should be in the forefront of the major industries organising and applying research and development on an extensive scale.

The CEGB’s Berkeley Nuclear Laboratories were created to service and support the Board’s nuclear power stations, as well as carry out relevant fundamental work. A major part of the R&D activities at Berkeley related to the reactor systems in operation – Magnox power stations, of which Berkeley was one of the first in 1962, and the Advanced Gas-Cooled Reactor stations that are still generating electricity.

The cave lines in the shielded area for post-irradiation examination of reactor components.

Many studies were also carried out on the Pressurised Water Reactor system, like at the operating Sizewell ‘B’ station in Suffolk and the proposed Hinkley Point ‘C’ station in Somerset. Other work investigated possible future reactors that could be used in power stations, like the Fast Reactor.

At any one time about 750 staff worked at the Laboratories with about 200 professional scientists and engineers supported by highly qualified technicians, skilled designers and craftspeople, together with the necessary administration staff. Many staff members lived locally including Cam, Dursley and the surrounding villages where they had a not insignificant effect on local organisations; and more than one generation in local families worked either at the Laboratories or the power station.

A view of the pile cap on the zero-energy reactor at BNL

One outstanding success in engineering was the development of methods to analyse the complex stresses in reactor structures. These advanced computer techniques were able to predict the behaviour of reactor components and became the basis of methods used worldwide to predict the behaviour of large-scale engineering structures.  To complement the theoretical work, comprehensive testing facilities were set up, including at the disused Breakheart Quarry in North Nibley, where components could be tested to destruction.

BNL built a single shielded building (still standing) in which various assemblies of a zero-energy reactor could be erected and dismantled to study reactor core conditions to compare measurements and theoretical modelling. In fuel management alone the reactor proved its worth.

Examination of irradiated fuel in the Shielded area of the Laboratories and fundamental work on the properties of the fuel and its cladding led to large increases in the discharge irradiation of both Magnox and AGR fuel.

These few examples exemplify the type of research projects that went into enhancing the operational efficiency and safety of the CEGB’s nuclear stations.  Many more could be quoted. BNL scientists did not work in isolation and there were many examples of co-operation with industrial and university research, both in the UK and overseas. Much of the work attained worldwide recognition and formed the basis for future research into electricity generation using nuclear power.

Venue information

For information on how to get to UWE Frenchay Campus and for parking, please see: https://www1.uwe.ac.uk/about/visitus/campusmapsandinformation/frenchaycampus/frenchaycampusmaps.aspx

Core parking hours on site are 9am-5pm. If parking outside of these times you will still need to validate your parking ticket in the pay machine, but will not be charged. You are advised to use Car Park 2 or 3 for this event.

Berkeley Nuclear Laboratories Group

The members of the Berkeley Research group are all ex scientists and technicians who worked at Berkeley Nuclear Laboratories. The Group is compiling a history of the staff, their work and achievements at the Laboratories, which was opened in 1961 and was operational for nearly 40 years.

Nuclear Institute Western Branch

The Nuclear Institute Western Branch covers one of the key centres of the nuclear industry in the U.K. and one where activity is growing. In response to this, Western branch is constantly building on our already impressive line-up of activities and events, to respond to the demands of the blossoming community.

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