The Atomic Weapons Research Establishment, Orford Ness, Suffolk: Cold War Research & Development Site. Survey Report
Author(s): Magnus Alexander, Wayne D Cocroft
The Atomic Weapons Research Establishment, Orford Ness, Suffolk, was operational between 1956 and 1972. Its primary task was environmental testing to simulate the conditions that nuclear weapons and their components might experience during trials and in service use. Here science and high politics merged, with investigations that were crucial to the credibility of the United Kingdom’s nuclear deterrent forces, the cornerstone of Cold War defence policy. Prior to the 20th century Orford Ness was a rarely visited place; the main economic activity was animal grazing on reclaimed marsh land. During the First World War the Royal Flying Corps established a flying field on the marshes and associated buildings along ‘The Street’. It was principally used for experimental work into aerial machine guns, bombs, navigation, and photography, a role that continued into the inter-war period. In 1935, a small experimental radar team arrived and conducted experiments that were critical in proving the value of this technology. This report is primarily concerned with the development of the post-war Atomic Weapons Research Establishment. To understand these developments a brief summary of the earlier military activity is also provided. Orford Ness is owned by the National Trust.
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