G F Tomlinson completes construction of bunker to house UK’s first neutron facility

by Francesca

Leading Midlands contractor, G F Tomlinson, has completed works to construct a new medical physics bunker at the University of Birmingham, which is due to house the UK’s first High Flux Accelerator-Driven Neutron Facility.

The new bunker is located at the university’s Edgbaston Campus, on the site of the Physics East Building which forms part of The School of Physics and Astronomy.

G F Tomlinson oversaw both the design and build of the project. Construction of the bunker began in September 2020, with the grounds of an existing bank of land being excavated down eight metres from the high side, and four and a half metres from the lower side under guidance from geologists. 

The main contractor worked closely with concrete structure specialists Northfield Construction Ltd and M&E engineers Dodd Group, to erect a steel frame following excavation works and the installation of a concrete structure – with a 450mm thick floor, 600mm thick walls and a 300mm thick floor slab on top. In addition to this specialist radiation doors were installed.

Landscaping works have also been carried out on site, with the sowing of grass seed and planting of trees along the bank leading up to the bunker.

Now complete, the bunker will house a High-Flux Accelerator, which will allow researchers at the university to better understand how neutrons interact with matter, helping to pave the way for how this research and technology can be applied in nuclear medicine and the study of space.

G F Tomlinson installed a gantry crane and roller shutter to enable the installation of the High-Flux Accelerator, which has now been lifted into place.

The contractor is due to return later this year to then install a wall in place of the shutter, sealing the highly specialised equipment safely into its final location which is due to be fully operational by summer this year.

The High Flux Accelerator-Driven Neutron Facility will be the first of its kind in the UK, and only the second such facility in the world – the other located in Helsinki in Finland. It forms part of the National Nuclear User Facility (NNUF), which is funded by the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

It will create a new hub for international research with applications extending to nuclear medicine and space, as well as enable a national training programme to boost the UK skills base in these state-of-the-art techniques.

Chris Flint, managing director of G F Tomlinson, said: “We’re incredibly proud to have completed the construction of this new bunker. It will be home to an important international facility designed to perform crucial research in the nuclear sector, which can be used to further specialised nuclear medicine and the understanding of materials in space.

“The bunker has been meticulously designed and built with safety and security of the utmost priority – the thickness of the concrete structure will ensure protection from radiation, as well as the installation of specialist radiation doors into the facility. Once fully installed, the facility will be operated in accordance with strict guidelines set out by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Environment Agency.

“We worked on site whilst the adjacent Physics East Building was occupied and being used for studying and essential testing throughout each day of the project, we therefore took great care to ensure our works did not disrupt the existing building users.

“The University of Birmingham has a long-standing history and track record of carrying out vital scientific research and it is wonderful to have worked with them to provide the ideal location for this unique facility, which will set a benchmark for further investment and development in the UK’s nuclear research future.”

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