A high-tech repository to hold the national archives of the civil nuclear industry has opened on the northern coast of Scotland.

Designed by Edinburgh-based architects Reiach and Hall, the futuristic, shard-like building was constructed on the site of a former RAF base in Wick, Caithness.

Entitled Nucleus, the national nuclear archive building comprises a total of eight climate-controlled repository rooms, seven of which will eventually hold all the records from the UK’s civil nuclear industry. In addition there is a large public area on site, which includes a reading room and community space for exhibitions.

Archive records from the early days of Britain’s civil nuclear programme will fill the repositories at Wick as the first generation reactors come to the end of their working life and are decommissioned. The records will provide an immensely valuable archive for both scientists and researchers. But they also reveal fascinating insights into the social history of the towns and villages nearest the sites of the UK’s earliest nuclear power plants.

Among the first materials to be transferred to the national nuclear archive are photographic records from the nearby Dounreay reactor in Thurso, which has now been decommissioned.

“Thurso was a small fishing town before the nuclear industry and you can see the growth that took place, which ended up with 2,500 well-paid jobs in the area,” David Flear, from the Dounreay Stakeholders Group told BBC Scotland. “Some of the earliest innovations in the nuclear industry happened [at Dounreay].”

All eight archive rooms at Nucleus are fitted out with manually driven mobile shelving systems, supplied by Bruynzeel Storage Systems, creating archive capacity of at least 24,000 linear metres. The mobile shelving is 4.5m high. The upper tiers of the shelving are accessed with mobile elevating work platforms. Each repository has its own colour coded steel front panels that are perforated to increase air ventilation. The internal frames are Bruynzeel Sysco Open, and fully comply with PD5454 guidelines for the storage of archival material.

Alongside seven repositories to hold archives managed by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), there is an eighth store room set aside for the local records of Caithness. This was also fitted out by Bruynzeel Storage Systems, with the same manual mobile shelving as the NDA repositories. In addition approximately 40 per cent of the local records archive is fitted with static shelving to hold more frequently accessed materials. The Caithness Archive has capacity for 23,000 boxes of archive material, sufficient to accommodate local records for many years to come.