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One of the most important collections in the history of nuclear energy has been preserved for future generations after a 400,000 investment in a new archive facility at Dounreay.

The archive is home to some 10 million pages of paper records contained in 21,000 boxes that would stretch for three kilometres if laid end to end.

The records chart the history of Dounreay from its earliest construction through the pioneering days of research and development of Britain's fast reactor experiment to the modern-day decommissioning of the site.

On the eve of the site's 50th anniversary, 230 tonnes of records have now been brought together under one roof in a state-of-the-art archive that will preserve the site's history for generations to come.

The new facility was officially opened by site director Norman Harrison, who paid tribute to the 'enormous team work that had gone into the development.

'You delivered on time and to cost with tremendous enthusiasm and professionalism," he told staff at the opening. "Your team work is a model for how we decommission the site.'

The archive is also an essential reference point for project teams charged with dismantling the legacy of atomic experiments dating back half a century.

Periodic reviews of older records that are not required by decommissioning staff result in some that are deemed to be of national importance being transferred to the national archives at Kew in Surrey. Other older records of local historical importance are being made available to the North Highland Archive at Wick.

The main contractor for the work was R.J. Macleod, with specialist shelving provided by Rackline.

All records are logged on a database for ease of reference and records transferred to the national archive at Kew can also be traced by computer and returned to the site for reference if necessary.

'The archive is the official record of what happened at this site and the pioneering contribution it made to nuclear science in the UK," said records office manager Ian Pearson, who leads a team of six full-time staff. He is supported by three retired employees - Peter Higginson, Trevor Barrett and Sandra Logie - who work part-time as official 'reviewers' in accordance with the Public Records Act.