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Nuclear X-files? Academics baffled as UK govt. pulls docs from national archives

Nuclear X-files? Academics baffled as UK govt. pulls docs from national archives
Thousands of national archive files on Britain’s atomic and nuclear weapons energy programs have been withdrawn from public view by order of the UK government without any explanation, alarming academics.

Researchers reported that the documents, dating from 1939 to the 1980s, were unexpectedly withdrawn by the National Archives last week. The files relate to, among other subjects, the creation of Britain’s first nuclear bombs and the private papers of the Nobel Prize-winning physicist who split the atomic nucleus, Sir John Cockcroft.

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The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), who provided no explanation for the removal, was behind the withdrawal, according to the National Archives.

A spokesperson for the NDA stated that they are “absolutely committed to openness and transparency,” though no reason has been forthcoming, leading to speculation among academics that the files contained previously overlooked sensitive information, which should be withheld from public view.

The papers in question are divided into two sections; records of the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) and the records of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority.

The AWE documents concern the development of the UK atomic weapons. Bomb tests, feasibility reports and notes on the theoretical physics of nuclear weapons are all included.

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Jon Agar, a professor of history of science and technology at University College London, spoke of his ‘alarm’ at the situation to the Guardian. “We would like to know what is going on. We would be alarmed as historians that it has been taken out of public view.

“These are important records for understanding the nuclear project in the UK. A couple of days ago a PhD student noticed that everything in the catalogue is coming up as temporarily retained. We are scratching our heads. It is all a bit mysterious.”

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