Photo Essay

Atomic secrets

Orford Ness - Photography prohibited

Orford Ness is many things – nearly all of them contrasting.

At its simplest it is a shingle spit off England's east coast which was formed by the sea thousands of years ago. It is also an area of outstanding natural beauty, and is home to several rare or endangered species.

More recently it has also been a former top-secret atomic weapons testing facility. It has been the site of pioneering experiments in radar, defence systems, bombs and atomic weapons. Radar was first tested and developed here by a small group of scientists who are now credited with changing the outcome of the Second World War. Later, during the Cold War, tests on atomic weapons were carried out here. Although local residents have always been assured that no atomic material was ever released, the details of exactly what type of testing was carried out remains secret.

In 1985, after about 70 years of occupation, the military left. The secret laboratories were dismantled. Scrap metal dealers salvaged what was left. Vandals and looters took their pick. Then the natural elements began their work.

The military presence and impact can still be seen. But nature is fighting back, and slowly winning.

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