THE last director of the UK Atomic Energy Authority's (UKAEA) Harwell laboratory, which housed Europe's first nuclear reactor, has died.

Peter Iredale, who was 87, was the eighth director of the former Atomic Energy Research Establishment, near Didcot, and was in charge of closing Harwell's last two nuclear reactors.

After a five-year stint in the role, he chaired the Oxfordshire Area Health Authority (AHA) and helped merge the county's main hospitals into one trust.

Peter Iredale was born on March 15, 1932, in Staffordshire.

His father, Henry, worked for the Co-Op, while his mother, Annie, was a retired maid, so Peter and his younger brother, Keith, grew up in modest circumstances.

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He excelled academically and won a place at nearby Lichfield Grammar School, before he took the high school certificate early and found himself reading physics at Bristol University, aged 17.

There, Mr Iredale met botany and zoology student and fellow badminton player, Judith Marshall.

They married in 1957 and had four children: John, Susan, Helen and Alison.

After graduating, Mr Iredale moved seamlessly onto a PhD, supervised by Nobel Prize-winning physicist Cecil 'CF' Powell.

He completed his PhD in 1955 and was appointed scientific officer at the Atomic Energy Research Establishment, during a golden age for the institute.

Up to 6,000 scientists, engineers, technical and support staff worked with equipment as advanced as any in the world.

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Mr Iredale progressed through several scientific and leadership positions and managed the marine and technology support and the energy and technology support units.

During the 1970s, he was commercial officer and from 1979 to 1984 he chaired the UK wave energy steering committee, before becoming director of engineering and non-nuclear energy.

Mr Iredale was appointed deputy director of the site in 1986, before he was promoted to director one year later - the final person to hold the role.

Within a matter of years, the closure of the UK's fast reactor programme and radical restructuring meant the director was responsible for closing Harwell's last reactors, which happened on March 31, 1990.

The changes meant Mr Iredale was site director of Harwell and the Culham laboratory, which still hosts the International Joint European Torus fusion programme.

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Nevertheless, he insisted Harwell retained the term 'campus' to reflect the future research aspirations of the multidisciplinary site.

He stepped down in 1992 and became AHA chair that same year, holding the role until 2001.

As well as merging the county's hospitals, Mr Iredale helped build a stronger relationship with Oxford University and was fondly remembered as a supportive mentor of junior colleagues.

He loved opera and spending time in the garden at his north Oxford home, but often said his proudest achievement was his family.

Peter Iredale died on July 10 of disseminated prostatic cancer.

His funeral is at 1pm on Monday at Oxford Crematorium and will be followed by a celebration of his life at Wolfson College at 3pm.