Dr Robert Hurst, CBE, GM; born January 3, 1915, died May 16, 1996

NEW ZEALANDER Dr Robert Hurst was a Second World War bomb-disposal expert, who went on to become the first director of the then-named Dounreay Experimental Research Establishment in Caithness in 1958.

For a decade, from 1963 onwards, Bob, as he was known by close colleagues when he lived in Thurso, had a complete change of career and served as the first director of the British Ship Research Association in Newcastle-on-Tyne.

Dr Hurst's association with Dounreay was during its most exciting period, when he was overseeing Britain's world lead in the development of fast reactor technology.

He was one of the generation of clever young scientists who created the basis of Britain's civil nuclear programme in the post-war era. He was appointed as Dounreay's first director in 1958 by Sir John Cockcroft, the chairman of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority.

It was Dr Hurst who was on hand to escort HM Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, when she officially performed the opening ceremony at Dounreay in 1958.

He and his wife, Rachael, lived in Thurso for five years and their children all attended local primary schools before the oldest two went on to Gordonstoun, in Moray. His memories of Thurso and Dounreay were happy ones and he regarded the fast reactor project as being the key part of his life's work.

Later in life he told former colleagues of his bitter disappointment that the fast reactor research had not borne fruit in becoming the standard form of nuclear power stations from the 1980s onwards, as he and others in the civil atomic programme had envisaged.

Today energy-deficient Japan, with its new Monju Fast Reactor and much help from Dounreay technology, is the only industrialised country holding faith with the concept, which is designed to make active use of the manmade radioactive element plutonium, a by-product of conventional Automatic power plants. Its only other use is in military in nuclear weapons.

Born at Nelson, New Zealand, Dr Hurst was educated at Nelson College and showed his brilliance as a young chemist when he graduated with a First Class Honours degree at Canterbury University, Christchurch, where he went on to secure a MSc in 1939.

As he was on his way by ship to Britain to continue his studies with a doctorate at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, the Second World War broke out.

After completing his first year of study at Cambridge, he volunteered in 1940 to work as a Ministry of Supply civilian scientist in the hazardous field of bomb disposal and mine detection.

In 1944 he was a key player in one of the most dangerous exercises in this area, for which he was awarded the George Medal. A V1 ``Doodlebug'' flying bomb had landed without exploding and he, together with Major (later Professor) John Hudson, of the Royal Engineers, worked for a nerve-wracking week before they succeded in rendering harmless its new type of clockwork mechanism fuse.

They had been instructed to recover the fuse intact ``without fail', so that its secrets could be learned.

His citation for Britain's highest civilian honour, won for this dangerous work which was complicated by continuing V1 raids and toxic fumes from the weapon's explosives, praised his ``sustained courage and determination''.

He completed his physical chemistry thesis at Cambridge after the war and in 1948 joined the newly-opened Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Harwell, Oxfordshire.

After a short spell as chief chemist at the Atomic Energy Authority's Industrial Research and Development site at Risley, Cheshire, he was appointed at the early age of 43 as the first director of Dounreay.

He later became director of research at the British Ship Research Association at Newcastle, which had just been formed to help shipbuilders keep pace with increasing international competition.

Dr Hurst retired twenty years ago to Poole, Dorset, and died following his third heart attack.