Atomic research lab at Harwell honoured by RSC

23 November 2009

The birthplace of the British nuclear industry was awarded a Chemical Landmark Plaque by the Royal Society of Chemistry, unveiled by the chemists who worked there in 1949.

The Harwell B220 "hot lab" was the centre for radiochemical research in the UK, designed in 1946 by leading atomic research teams and was the world's most advanced nuclear research facility when opened in 1949.

Dr John Wilkins, who worked in B220 and was for many years the Harwell Head of Site, was in attendance to help commemorate the site's importance in science history.

The research done at B220 laid the foundations for the British nuclear industry, including not only fundamental atomic research but treatment of waste, and the behaviour of waste in long-term storage underground.

Professor David Garner, President of the Royal Society of Chemistry, awarded the plaque and said : "The hot laboratory at Harwell has been of scientific and strategic significance, both within the UK and worldwide, since 1946.

"Thus, scientists at Harwell have pioneered research and development that has been crucial the utilisation of nuclear power and advances in our understanding of the chemistry of the actinide elements"

Alan Neal, Managing Director of RSRL (the site licence company responsible for managing the closure programme of the designated area on the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus), said "I am delighted that the pioneering chemistry that was carried out at Harwell is now receiving this recognition.   It is particularly timely that, as we start to see the rebirth of the nuclear power industry, we pay tribute to the fundamental scientific work that allows this to happen."  

Dr. Sally Ann Forsyth, Director of Science Parks at Goodman, said: "Harwell is a world class location for science and innovation. To receive this prestigious award from one of the most distinguished bodies in chemical science is not only a huge honour, but underlines these credentials. Working alongside our joint venture partners we are building on Harwell's rich history as a place that will continue to foster open innovation and collaboration between businesses, research organisations, and academia for many more years to come."

After an esteemed sixty-year history, B220 will now be decommissioned and the building demolished to make way for future development. The scientific legacy of the facility is not limited to energy generation: the groundwork on radioactive isotopes led directly to their now widespread use in industry and medicine.

Radiotherapy and the use of radioactive isotopes as tracers are now almost routine practices in hospitals around the world.

Continuing this legacy, Harwell Science and Innovation Campus, near Oxford, is today being developed into a world-leading centre for science and innovation as part of a joint venture between global property group Goodman, the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) and the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC).

Future investment at Harwell will encompass fundamental scientific research and the development of property, facilities and local infrastructure. A minimum of 100,000 sqm of laboratory, high technology industrial and office accommodation will be developed in the first phase of the project. Up to 5,000 high value knowledge-based jobs are also expected to be created.

Chemical Landmarks are the RSC's official recognition of historical sites where important chemical breakthroughs have been made. They commemorate, emphasise and awaken public interest in historic developments in the chemical sciences.

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