BOMB EXPERT HONOURED FOR AVERTING DISASTER

A FORMER Wakefield schoolboy has received the George Medal from the Queen for helping to avert a nuclear disaster.

Ex-army bomb disposal expert Captain Justin Priestley, 30, a former pupil at Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, was given the award in February.

Mr Priestley and another officer risked their lives when were called in to help in September 1999 after experiment went wrong inside a laboratory codenamed Building 220.

The Royal Logistics Corps officers worked for 36 hours at one of Britain s largest nuclear and chemical research buildings, the Atomic Energy Plant in Harwell, Oxfordshire to prevent an explosion.

They were called in because site safety experts felt facilities at the plant could not make the building definitely safe.

Around 2,000 scientists work on science and engineering experiments for customers worldwide at the plant.

Local schoolchildren were evacuated from the area and a blast perimeter was set up.

The laboratory where unstable silver compounds had accumulated was nearby nuclear reactors and radiochemical laboratories.

Nitric acid was gradually pumped into the tank with silver compounds at a distance of 50 metres through a tube to reduce the risk of explosion.

Mr Priestly said: If we had walked too hard or talked too loudly the unstable compounds could have been set off.

We set up the equipment inside the room and then worked on it from a distance. We took advice from the scientists there, but it was difficult to assess the situation because they were wary of giving away any information about the experiments.

The father-of-two said his experiences serving with the special forces in Hereford and in the army in Northern Ireland and the Gulf provided him with invaluable training in dealing with dangerous situations.

He said: In Northern Ireland you never know where the booby trap or trip wire is and you don t know what the risks are, often because the bombs are homemade.

Because you are so focussed on what you re doing, there isn t any time to be nervous. It s down to you and your own actions and confidence in knowing you are trained for this.

To diffuse bombs you need to be able to get inside the terrorist s mind and see what they re trying to achieve so you can find out what ingredients were used.

Mr Priestley started his army career at 16 when he went to army college in Sandhurst and began specialising in bomb disposal at the Royal Military College of Science at Shrivenham.

He now works as a damage consultant for Control Risk Group in London where he advises businesses on insurance against terrorism.