Robin Jeffrey, leading figure in the nuclear industry who designed Torness Power Station

Born: February 19, 1939;

Died: November 4, 2018

DR ROBIN Campbell Jeffrey, who has died aged 79, was a leading figure in the nuclear industry who was responsible for the design and construction of the Torness Power Station.

His elder brother Rev Stuart Jeffrey remembers sheltering together with their mother from German bombers in the cupboard under the stairs in their home in Kirkintilloch during the Clydebank Blitz of 1941. He also remembers Robin as an adventurous child, first on a tricycle, then leaping around the rockpools at Dunbar, later with a powerful motorbike, swapped for a red MG sports car and finally a Riley which was always being taken apart and rebuilt as befitted a trained engineer.

After school at Lenzie Academy and latterly Kelvinside Academy, Robin went to Strathclyde University to study for his BSc in mechanical engineering and then to Pembroke College, Cambridge for his PhD. It was there that he met Barbara Robinson and fell in love with her on the badminton court, leading to a very happy marriage of 56 years. Together they had three children, Alan, David and Catherine, and Barbara matched his PhD as a mature student some 30 years later.

A passionate Scot, Dr Jeffrey remained in Glasgow for most of his working life which took him to Babcock & Wilcox, from 1966 to 79, and then to the South of Scotland Electricity Board in 1980. There he moved up the ladder quickly and it was here that he was responsible for Torness Power Station, which was delivered on time and to budget and with an admirable safety record.

Subsequently he was appointed director of engineering resources for Scottish Power plc as the SSEB became on privatisation. When the government decided to split off nuclear generation in 1992 he was appointed chief executive of Scottish Nuclear and subsequently chairman in 1985; when Scottish Nuclear was incorporated into British Energy in 1996 he was appointed as deputy chairman responsible for the North American business.

While he was noted for his determination to ensure that nuclear power would be economic he believed firmly in an appropriate mix of energy sources. He also managed to retain the headquarters of British Energy in Scotland with the head office moving from Edinburgh to East Kilbride. As a manager he was held in high esteem by his staff, being demanding but fair, someone who believed in teams, literally worked in his shirtsleeves, walked the walk, encouraged young and particularly female staff and introduced a gainshare bonus system so that all staff could benefit and not simply top management.

Always committed to nuclear power he spent three valuable years in North America where he was widely regarded as the author of the resuscitation of Three Mile Island in USA and the formation of Bruce Power in Canada. This success was publicly acknowledged by FT awards and the International Award of the Canadian power industry.

He returned to UK as executive chairman of British Energy in 2001 but was ousted by the board late the following year after a major strategic conflict with the government over the future plans for the company. He was retained on an advisory role for further work in Canada and was appointed a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering and a visiting professor of engineering at Strathclyde University.

As is evident from his career Dr Jeffrey held very strong views, the keys to which were his fierce intelligence and David Hume-like scepticism, allied to the powerful analytical ability of a top-class trained engineer. Nobody could doubt these abilities which led to a total confidence in his own opinions.

He also took a mischievous delight in taking the opposite view to test his own and other’s contentions. He was so skilled at this that on occasion it was only after a major argument that you realised where his true opinion lay. These characteristics were highlighted by his extraordinary ability to get to the bottom of a complex set of issues, occasionally exacerbated by a frustration that others were unable to follow him. He had high standards of himself and others.

He had a mischievous glint in his eye. His teetotal minister brother Stewart tried to instil a set of Christian beliefs in Robin through a regular flow of religious works. He gave this up when Robin riposted with a major volume on wine-making.

Interestingly after moving from Glasgow to Oxford in 2003 Dr Jeffrey did not brood on his past career (his new friends were generally unaware of his achievements and industry standing) and he entered into a wide range of activities including timed sudoku, bread-making, ambitious gardening and enjoying the company of his children and seven grandchildren.

He had always been fiercely competitive on the squash court and remained so on the tennis court and the golf course into old age; he had a deep love of music including baroque which led to his building a harpsichord and he much enjoyed watching international rugby whenever Scotland were playing.

Always the project engineer, he approached any activity on a project basis, determined to complete it ahead of schedule and below budget. His final project when already ill was to move house to St Albans so that Barbara could be nearer their daughter and family, something that was indeed completed ahead of schedule and below budget.