OBITUARY:John Collier

John Collier was an outstanding leader and champion for nuclear power and the industry that supported it. In recent years, his vision and determination were demonstrated by his achievements as Chairman of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) and then, from 1990, as the first Chairman of Nuclear Electric.

Collier recognised the need to define a new future for the UKAEA as its traditional nuclear power mission neared completion. His strategy was based on the commercial exploitation of its rich technological inheritance, while responsibly managing the liabilities from its mission. He led the transformation required to translate this goal into reality, and it is a tribute to his vision and leadership that AEA Technology is now on the threshold of privatisation.

It was no surprise that in 1990 John Wakeham, the Secretary of State for Energy, turned to Collier after the failure to privatise the nuclear power component of the Central Electricity Generating Board, and invited him to be the first Chairman of Nuclear Electric, set up to run the nuclear power stations in England and Wales.

Collier accepted this challenge, recognising the immensity of the task, and with some regrets at having to leave AEA at the turning point in its transformation. At the outset, he set out his vision for the new company in terms of key strategic goals. The degree to which these goals were achieved, with a remarkable turnaround in the company's performance and the establishment of the base for the planned privatisation of its AGR and PWR stations, was perhaps the crowning achievement of Collier's career. Especially noteworthy was the completion of the Sizewell B power station, the first pressurised water reactor in Britain. The special satisfaction with which Collier saw the station's successful entry into service this year was reflected in his delivery, only a few weeks ago, of the Hinton Lecture, to the Royal Academy of Engineers.

Like a number of great engineers, including his illustrious predecessor at UKAEA and the Central Electricity Generating Board Christopher Hinton, Collier started his career at the bottom, leaving school at the age of 16 to join the Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Harwell as a student apprentice in 1951. This provided the gateway to a scholarship at University College London where he graduated with a First Class degree in chemical engineering. His practical training in the Harwell Apprentice School provided him with a sound grounding in applied engineering and an instinctive feel for the shop floor that stood him in good stead throughout his career. He retained a great affection for the apprentice school and a strong interest in the development and training of young people. One of his many strengths was his ability to communicate his enthusiasm for engineering at all levels. It was particularly appropriate that he was chosen, during the last year, to play a key role in Michael Heseltine's initiative on Action for Engineering by chairing a task force on communicating more effectively the importance of technology.

On leaving university in 1957, Collier returned to a Harwell which, under John Cockcroft's leadership, had developed into one of the world's great research laboratories. It was in this high-powered environment that Collier embarked on his research into heat transfer and fluid flow. Although pioneering in nature, his work had a strong practical engineering theme in laying the foundations for improved design and operation of boilers in nuclear power stations. This practical thrust was maintained through his periods in the 1960s with Atomic Energy of Canada (AECL) and with the Atomic Power Construction in Britain. On returning to Harwell, he brought his research to its culmination with his book Convective Boiling and Condensation (1972), which has remained a standard reference to this day, used by students and practising engineers world-wide.

In the 1970s and into the 1980s, Collier's career took on a wider dimension as he was given more demanding and wide-ranging management tasks with the UKAEA. He developed a broader expertise in the technology and safety of light-water reactors, and also got increasingly involved with policy issues of international importance. Working with Walter Marshall, first at UKAEA and then at CEGB, Collier played an important part in the decision to switch the UK's nuclear programme to PWRs (and was saddened that only one has been built so far). This set the basis for the subsequent leading roles he played with UKAEA and Nuclear Electric.

His achievements were recognised by his election as a Fellow of the Royal Society, in 1990. Most recently, he was acclaimed by his fellow chemical engineers through his election as President of the Institute of Chemical Engineers.

John Collier was a big man both in physical presence and personality. Although he was a man of clear conviction, he sought to persuade rather than dominate others. At meetings, his warmth and sense of humility, together with his determination to get to the bottom of issues, encouraged others to express their views openly. He had the intellectual grasp and vision to reach clear conclusions which he then acted on decisively, even when that involved ruffling feathers.

Although essentially a private and serious man, John Collier enjoyed life immensely and had a tremendous sense of humour. Even when the going was tough, he thought that work should be fun. He had a great love of music and painting and a particular passion for Turner; he was particularly pleased by the proposition that the Tate Gallery should acquire Bankside Power Station, a Nuclear Electric inheritance from the former CEGB. His greatest sporting love was cricket and as a young man at Harwell he was an enthusiastic fast bowler; it must have been an awesome sight.

Brian Eyre

If there has been a sea-change in the attitude of the broad Left in Britain towards civil nuclear power - and there has - it can be ascribed to two centres of origin: to the organisation Trade Unions for Safe Nuclear Energy, chaired by Bill Morgan of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers, and to John Collier, writes Tam Dalyell.

From the time he became chairman of the UKAEA in 1987, Collier went to infinite pains to explain what the UKAEA and, later, Nuclear Electric, were trying to do, to sceptical and worried MPs. As a believer in civil nuclear power, I marvelled at his skill and patience in handling over many a lunch my more nervous and doubting parliamentary colleagues. He was memorable for his clarity of exposition, which was in the Lord Penney class, and for his cheerful, if not always too exact, use of cricketing terms such as "googly", "chinaman" and "lbw" to describe problems of complex engineering or atomic physics. Possibly his favourite riposte to MPs asking slightly truculent know-all questions was "You might think that you have bowled a fast yorker on the leg stump, but it is playable."

In his youth Collier had been a strapping, demon, if less than accurate, pace bowler, according to a friend of mine who faced him.

Possibly his most important long-term achievement in the great scheme of matters nuclear was quiet and behind the scenes. It was Collier who at senior level at any rate first identified the colossal potential threat to the cause of nuclear power in the world if potentially unstable power stations in eastern Europe, such as Kozloduy, in Bulgaria, or Smolensk, in the Soviet Union, were to suffer accident rather than incident.

"Another Chernobyl," he sighed anxiously, "might shut Sizewell. We'd better face up to that." Therefore he instigated and backed with sustained zeal Western efforts to provide expert personnel and expertise to help. In the West's own self- interest he argued we ought to spend more money in doing what we could to ensure safety in EasternEurope.

John Gordon Collier, chemical engineer: born London 22 January 1935; Head, Engineering Sciences Group, United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, Harwell 1970-75, Head, Chemical Engineering Division 1975-77, Member, Atomic Energy Technical Unit 1979-81, Director of Technical Studies 1981- 82, Deputy Chairman 1986-87, Chairman 1987-90; Director General, Generation Development and construction Division, CEGB Barnwood 1983-86; Chairman, Nuclear Electric 1990-95; FRS 1990; married 1956 Ellen Mitchell (one son, one daughter); died 18 November 1995.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350 - £400 per ...

HR Manager - HR Generalist / Sole in HR

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - HR Generalis...

Business Analyst - Banking - London - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: Business Analyst - Banking - People Change - Lond...

HR Manager - Milton Keynes - £50,000 + package

£48000 - £50000 per annum + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Shared...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape