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Home > Stakeholders and Community > Insight - Stakeholder Newsletter > Pictorial archive owes debt to Eric  

Insight Stakeholder Newsletter

Pictorial archive owes debt to Eric

18 November 2009

 Eric Jenkin's archive is now a valuable national asset

A fascinating collection of old images is being painstakingly preserved thanks to the dedication of long-serving Harwell photographer Eric Jenkins.

The moving films and grainy photos, dating from the end of World War II when the UK first began research into developing nuclear power, tell the story of how scientists tested prototype reactors and pushed the boundaries of knowledge. The more up-to-date images, now in full colour, show how those same reactors are being decommissioned and buildings demolished.

One unique visual story includes the installation of graphite into Europe's first reactor GLEEP (Graphite Low Energy Experimental Pile), built in 1946, and its final moments 60 years later. GLEEP was used for initial investigations into how to make a reactor work and later as an international standard for materials testing and calibration.

Eric started work as a 16-year-old lab technician at the Harwell research site in 1959, but his passion for photography gradually nudged him in a different direction.

Now a full-time professional photographer with 50 years experience, he has an extensive knowledge of the nuclear story and many of the images in the collection are his own work.

As facilities were taken out of service, or moved from one site to another, Eric was often a lone voice in trying to ensure the visual records didn't end up in a skip along with the rest of the office waste.

"It effectively started because I didn't like to see photographs or film being thrown away. I always felt they should be kept as a record," he said.

He has worked tirelessly to transfer roll after roll of old film into more modern formats and ensure old photographs are scanned and electronically archived. Computer and recording equipment from down the decades are dotted around his office, allowing him to ensure even the most antiquated material is accessible to modern technology.

Much work remains to be done – Eric's memory is sometimes the only catalogue of half-remembered events or long-gone facilities, but he aims to ensure that everything is gradually transferred to an electronic equivalent.

His solitary crusade has evolved into a systematic project to archive the material and maintain comprehensive records, working with Sue Connell and Chris Holmes.

It has been a labour of love over many years but the collection is now an important national archive that contains more than one million still images and unique footage of the UK's nuclear heritage. Without Eric, much of it could have been lost forever.

Plans are currently being developed for the creation of the UK's first national nuclear archive at Wick in the far north of Scotland.

Subject to funding, this would involve moving Eric's image library to Wick. It is envisaged that the archive would bring together material from across the UK and be available for researchers, academics, businesses and other interested parties or individuals.

Eric aims to stay on long enough to ensure a smooth transition for all the visual material kept at Harwell, where it is managed for the NDA by UKAEA. The team, meanwhile, is still seeking items for conservation, so if you know of any material that might be of interest, please get in touch on: 01235 434499.