In the first of our 'Talk to Us' series, we're delighted to share the recollections of Civil Service scientist David Bradley PhD BSc CChem MARR FRSC as he looks back on his career....

Sixty five years ago I graduated with a degree in ‘Special Chemistry’ from London University. With the prospect of National Service to contend with, I couldn`t contemplate a career let alone imagine that one day I would become a Civil Servant. My ‘call up’ wasn`t to be, I was offered a job in research with the UK Atomic Energy Authority. I jumped at the opportunity which brought me into the exciting but secretive world of the atom. I joined the AEA Industrial Group at Springfields in Lancashire where methods of making fuel for Magnox reactors were being developed. In 1957 a reactor at Windscale that generated plutonium caught fire potentially releasing radioactive particles into the atmosphere; fortunately most of the particles were captured in the filters, notwithstanding that egress of radioactive iodine that necessitated in large amounts of milk being thrown away. I wasn`t involved in the inquiry that followed, but the incident made me realise that ‘nuclear’ had both benefits and a down side. I wanted to know more about the risks and how to manage what I believed to be a valuable source of clean energy.

In 1959 the UKAEA agreed to keep my job open whilst giving me opportunity to fulfil my ambition. I returned to University to study the effects of radiation on organic materials, this later related to studies in the treatment of cancers. My wife to be typed my thesis. I was awarded a PhD in 1964. By this time my job with the Atomic Energy Authority had been re-located to Dounreay in the North of Scotland….no place for a single lad who had just met the girl who in February 1965 would become his wife. Once again I had a career choice to make.

(Pictured above: David at work)

I continued lecturing at a Polytechnic but this was becoming an unfulfilling experience, no research facilities. I was then offered a three year contract at Lucas Heights in Australia, nuclear research and a wonderful opportunity; but it was not to be, with everything in place a ‘motorway madness’ crash on the M1 on November 5th 1965 in which my wife, who was expecting our first child, was injured consequentially losing our first baby, delayed acceptance of this offer. And a re-think! I trundled along happy that my wife was pregnant again. Then a friend from university spoke to me about the Harold Wilson “White Hot Technological Revolution.” I applied for the job advertised when I was appointed to the post of Senior Scientific Officer, one of three scientists and engineers responsible for advising the DTI Regional Director on the technical issues of projects intended to bring jobs and prosperity to the Northern Region. I became an established Civil Servant with security and status.

Notwithstanding the initial problems of finding a house and settling in to a part of Britain that to my wife “seemed like the Moon,” my experience over the next eight years gave me the confidence (if not the frustration) to deal with the very difficult personal circumstances that Beth and I were later to face. The job was all I could have wished for. Assisted by five highly motivated Industrial Liaison Officers and competent administrative support, I was able me to keep in touch with technical developments in universities and colleges throughout the Region and introduce their innovative ideas into the Region’s industries. Various schemes led to diverse employment opportunity although the numbers employed were often below expectation. I spent time on committees, giving talks to various institutions, reporting on incidents, collecting information for government statistics and arranging visits by Ministers and other dignitaries. On one occasion I was asked to find something different for a visiting Minister to do; I decided that I would arrange for him to see something of the beautiful Northern countryside before visiting a Fluorspar mine in Teesdale. My ‘recce’ went well, that is until I got to mine where, dressed in oil skins, I went underground into the lime stone where the miners of fluorspar did their work. I got very wet on the vertical man rider. I was in trepidation when I arrived at Newcastle Airport to say good bye to the Minister. I needn`t have worried….he did get wet but said that his visit was the most interesting that he had ever made. This was not a 9-5 job, something different every day. I felt proud of my social involvement.

Beth and I made many friends in Whickham where we lived enabling us to raise our three children in an exciting and beautiful environment. Later our youngest son returned to Newcastle to study medicine and now works as a consultant Paediatrician. Our first son worked as a biologist with the NHS and our daughter became an administrator with the Royal College of Surgeons. A family of Civil Servants.

A change in administration in the early seventies left me in Limbo; the grant-work was stopped and the ILOs re-purposed. After some soul searching and a couple of weeks at staff college, I agreed to join the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate in Liverpool; not my first choice but convenient in view of personal difficulties through ill-health then being experienced in my extended family. The atmosphere in Liverpool was so much different; highly technical and formal. I had become a small cog in a more complex machine. I loved the job if not the formality. After retirement, my experience as a regulator and my time with the DTI enabled me to continue to challenge government thinking over the efficacy of proposals to dispose of radioactive waste to a deep earth geological disposal facility, a GDF. No luck so far however since MPs have voted to include disposal in the National Strategic Infrastructure Project. If any reader has ideas I would welcome debate.

If I reflect on my thirty years or so as a servant of government, I can say that the happiest times were when I worked from Newcastle. My work with the UKAEA and the NII was totally absorbing but lacked the togetherness and social fulfilment of my job in the Northern Region. I cannot know how the Civil Service has changed over the past 30 years ago, but I can presume that in these difficult days of ‘Covid 19’ the Scientific Civil Servant has re-established its value. When the current Pandemic is over, the problems of global climate change, unrestricted population growth and austerity will need to be addressed. Perhaps, once again the Scientific Civil Service will still be there to support the decision making process.

If you'd like to share your recollections of your Civil Service career then you can email us at: [email protected]