A HAMPSHIRE scientist who helped develop Britain’s first atomic bomb has died aged 96 – six years to the day after the death of his wife.
Percy White, former chairman of Lymington Community Centre, was one of a group of boffins involved in the UK’s nuclear weapons programme in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
Mr White was chief chemical engineer at Aldermaston, Berkshire, where much of the pioneering work was carried out. He made many contributions to the weapon, which was successfully tested off the north-west coast of Australia in October 1952.
The London-born scientist began his career in the metals industry, moving to the Ministry of Supply during the Second World War.
He worked on antidotes to chemical warfare agents and also developed a faster method of filling shells and bombs with high explosive. At the end of the war Mr White was offered a permanent appointment as a government scientist.
He joined the London-based Armament Research Project, which was given the task of designing and testing Britain’s atomic bomb.
The project needed new accommodation and moved to Aldermaston in 1950. Mr White was the first scientist on the site and was asked to design a radioactive liquid treatment plant for the facility.
His boss was William (later Lord) Penney, who had worked on the US atomic bomb programme, the Manhattan Project, during the war.
He described Mr White as a highly-talented engineer who was energetic and self-confident “with an inquiring mind and the ability to express himself with extraordinary clarity”.
In the early 1960s Mr White helped create the fast breeder reactor at Dounreay nuclear power plant in Caithness, Scotland.
Awarded the OBE in 1966, he moved to Lymington in 1972 and became chairman of the community centre.
His wife Jean moved into Birchy Hill Care Home in Sway in 1999 and Mr White joined her in 2005.
After she died in 2007 he moved to Wokingham in Surrey to be near his son Steven and daughter Barbara.
He is survived by his two children and also leaves four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.