- An Atomic Empire -

A history of atomic energy in Britain

This website is intended to act as a supplement to my book, 'An Atomic Empire', published by Imperial College Press, a political and technical history of the British atomic energy programme. Most of the research from the book has been from archives, as the senior figures involved in the atomic energy programme are no longer with us.

The book contains many quotations from original documents, but through sheer lack of space, only selections from the documents have been possible. This site will include a much fuller transcript of many of the important historical documents. In addition, some of the most significant documents are reproduced as copies from the original.

Sir William Penney's report describing the events and cause of the fire at Windscale Pile No. 1. An edited version was published as part of the subsequent White Paper.

A report from 1966 by LR Shepherd describing the DRAGON project.

The Atomic Energy Authority was born in July 1954. DH Peirson, Secretary of the Authority until 1971, wrote a personal account of the early days.

The UK AEA produced a book about its work at Harwell. One of the appendices gave details of the first two British reactors, GLEEP and BEPO.

In 1957, Harwell thought it had achieved nuclear fusion with ZETA, and Sir John Cockcroft gave a rather hubristic press conference.


How to buy your copy of
'An Atomic Empire'.

A companion book to 'An Atomic Empire', describing the British rocketry and space progaramme of the 1950s and 60s:

'A Vertical Empire'

Contact me.

The case for air cooled piles for producing plutonium, as presented to the Cabinet by John Wilmot, Minister of Supply.

Photographs of the Queen at the opening of the Calder Hall power station.

A flowchart from a UKAEA booklet, showing the process by which a fuel element for a power was manufactured, starting from the uranium ore.

William Penney's report detailing the arrangements that would have to be made if Britain were to go ahead with building an atomic weapon.

An AEA brochure describing the construction and workings of the Steam Generating Heavy Water Reactor (SGHWR) constructed at Winfrith, Dorset.

William Penney was given the task of building Britain's first atom bomb. This page reproduces Penney's early thoughts on how this should be organised.

Sir John Cockroft made a start on an autobiography, left unfinished at his death. A copy is now in the National Archives, and a transcription can be read here.

In 1957, Harwell thought it had achieved nuclear fusion in an experiment named ZETA, and issued a booklet describing it. Here are some excerpts.