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Fast reactors light up nation's museum

December 12, 2008

copyright Kate Williams

It featured on a postage stamp, is used by media worldwide to illustrate nuclear power and even was replicated in the shape of cigarette lighters.

Now, the renowned image of Dounreay’s experimental fast breeder reactor is featuring in its decommissioning phase at the country’s national museum.

National Musuems Scotland has purchased a striking sculpture made from uranium glass and illuminated with ultraviolet light.

The 2.5kg exhibit features the iconic 1950s sphere as well as its successor, the larger box-shaped Prototype Fast Reactor.

The sculpture is on display in the newly-opened gallery, Scotland: A Changing Nation, in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

Art and literature play high profile roles in the gallery’s interpretation, with artworks, literature and film weaving through the displays to further understanding of key moments in the nation’s modern history.

Dounreay’s world-leading role at the forefront of research into nuclear energy during the second half of the 20th century is documented in the strand that examines the changing face of Scotland’s industry and technology.

“The research work at Dounreay into the production of nuclear energy is of historical interest as the first fast reactor in the world to generate electricity for a national grid was located there,” said Alexander Hayward, National Museums Scotland’s keeper of science and technology.

The sculpture is one of several featuring real and fictitious nuclear power plants made in 2006 and 2007 by Kate Williams in collaboration with John Lloyd.

Kate spent six months in Caithness in 2006 as artist in residence at Northlands Creative Glass and Lyth Arts Centre.

James Gunn, Dounreay’s heritage officer, said the museum’s acquisition of the model underlines just how important Dounreay was in a national context.

“Fifty years on it is hard to imagine the level of pride, prestige and enthusiasm that surrounded this site,” he said.

“In its operational heyday, Dounreay was symbolic of the white heat of technology, the cutting edge of British expertise and renowned worldwide as being a leader in its field. Exhibitions like this help to remind people of the Dounreay phenomenon and assure Dounreay of its place in history.”

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