Originally published in Volume IV, Issue 7 on 21st January 1998 by Observer Reporters.
UCD’s Belfield campus was the proposed site for an American-funded nuclear reactor, which was approved by the Government in 1965.
Details of the plan emerged earlier this month, for the first time, when confidential state papers from 1967 were released in the National Archives. It appears that the idea originated with the American government, which contacted the Minister for Finance, offering to fully fund the project.
It is presumed that negotiations with the American were verbal, since the state papers contain no documentation of such. Indeed the only record of the plan is a single, hand-written page of cabinet minutes headed “Nuclear Reactor: Loan by U.S. authorities.”
The cabinet minute records, dated November 19th, 1965, state that the reactor “…would be sited in the Dublin suburbs (Belfield was mentioned).” They conclude, “it was informally agreed that the project (which, Minister for Finance said, would cost the Americans $200,000) should be facilitated. The Minister for Finance is to keep in touch with the Minister for Transport and Power and the Minister for Education.”
The acquisition of a reactor for Ireland was first recommended by the Atomic Energy Committee in 1958. Of the committee’s eleven members, no less than three were UCD professors. Their report suggested that a reactor be located “…in Dublin in an area free from continuously occupied buildings for a radius of 500ft.” The UCD owned lands at Belfield fulfilled these requirements.
It was envisaged that possession of a 1,000kW output reactor would allow for the establishment of postgraduate courses “…for the training of Irish engineers in the peaceful uses of atomic energy.” The government of the time dismissed the proposal on the grounds of expense, and the issue did not arise again seriously at cabinet level until 1964.