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Obituary – Dr Wally Eldred MBE FREng CEng FIMMM

Fellows' Lounge
29 Mar 2016

Dr Vernon Walter 'Wally' Eldred MBE FREng CEng FIMMM 1925–2015

'Wally’ Eldred was educated at Bishop Vesey’s Grammar School, Sutton Coldfield, and St Catharine’s College, Cambridge and first became involved in nuclear research and development when, on 1 January 1947, he was transferred to the year-old Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Harwell. He had previously worked at the Fuel Research Station of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research as part of his three years of war service. In 1948, he returned to Cambridge to take Part II of the Natural Sciences Tripos in Metallurgy and stayed on there in the Department of Metallurgy to do research for Harwell, which led to a PhD, Interactions between Solid and Liquid Metals and Alloys – a topic that arose from the developing interest in using liquid metals to cool nuclear reactors. 

In 1953, he joined the Nelson Research Laboratories of the English Electric Company in Stafford and worked on nuclear power research then, in 1955, took up an appointment with the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority in the R&D Branch at Windscale, where he was involved in the non-destructive and destructive study of highly radioactive materials, starting with aluminium-clad uranium metal fuel elements from the air-cooled Windscale Piles. As Research Manager (Metallurgy), he went on to run a large team concerned with the detailed post-irradiation examination (PIE) and assessment of numerous designs of Magnox-clad metal fuel from the pioneering CO2-cooled Calder Hall and Chapelcross power stations, from the stations of the Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB) and the South of Scotland Electricity Board (SSEB) and from the stations at Latina (Italy) and Tokai Mura (Japan). The methods he proposed for determining, on the basis of PIE results, the maximum discharge irradiation levels that could be achieved without unacceptable fuel element failures were supported by CEGB and were adopted by the industry as the ‘Eldred/Harris Criteria’.

He was author and co-author of many internal AEA reports and of published papers on thermal reactor fuel performance and related topics, lectured regularly at the Calder Reactor School and served on numerous committees, including the national Fuel Element Committee, the Board of the British Nuclear Energy Society (BNES), the Board of AEA Northern Research Laboratories and the Council of the Institution of Metallurgists, for whom he chaired the National Committee for England and Wales on Higher National Certificates and Diplomas in Metallurgy. 

He was appointed an MBE in 1970 and, in 1979, shared with Dr J E Harris of CEGB’s Berkeley Nuclear Laboratories the Royal Society Esso Award for the Conservation of Energy in 1979. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering in 1984, made a Fellow of the Institution of Metallurgists in 1964 and an Honorary Fellow of the Institution of Nuclear Engineers in 1988.

Dr Eldred had become, in turn, Head of the Fuel Examination and Fuel Performance Divisions of the AEA Laboratories at Windscale (being at the same time Deputy Head of Laboratories). He retired in 1990 as head of the laboratories. 

He and his wife Pam remained at Santon Bridge, Cumbria, within five miles of Windscale/Sellafield and Calder Hall until her death in September 2013. Since then, he had been cared for in Hames Hall, Cockermouth. They had three children, Andrew, Sally and John – all married with families of their own – living at Outwood (Surrey), Alnwick (Northumberland) and Cockermouth (Cumbria), respectively. He was grandfather to John, Lucy, Robert, Peter, Alice, Tom and Kate and great-grandfather to Jessica. He died in Hames Hall, Cockermouth, Cumbria on Tuesday 13 December.