Biography of Malcolm Jones

Dr. Jones is a member of the JSS Editorial Board

(source: The Role of Swansea in the UK Nuclear Programme)

Jones joined the staff at Aldermaston in 1967 at the same time as Brian Thomas[35]. The son of a miner, he was brought up in Nantymoel in the Ogmore Valley. One of his close friends while growing up was Lyn Davies who won a gold medal at the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. Jones graduated with a first class degree from Swansea University in 1964 and went on to do a Ph.D. in solid state physics before joining AWRE straight from University. In his early career he was involved in research and development into electronic aspects of nuclear warheads, including the electro-explosive firing circuits. This work involved the design of the arming, fusing and firing architectures of the warhead. He later became involved in important work on the safety issues associated with the Chevaline Arming System and subsequently, as a Nuclear Safety Adviser to senior MoD and AWE committees, he provided advice on the contents of the UK’s top level Nuclear Weapons Safety standards which remain in place today. He also set up the JOWOG 44 group on nuclear weapon safety assessment methodologies and acted as chair of the group for more than 20 years. He was a member of a number of other JOWOGS dealing with Radiation Simulation and Kinetic Effects, Energetic Materials, Warhead Electrical Components and Technologies, Facilities, and Nuclear Weapons Engineering. His major contribution in all of these Anglo-American scientific groups was on nuclear weapons safety[36].

With the development of the Soviet Gallosh anti-ballistic missile system in the 1970s and 1980s an AWE group was set up to consider how these defences might affect the effectiveness of the UK’s nuclear deterrent. Malcolm Jones was an original member of this group and had responsibility for overseeing the work on potential radiation effects on the Chevaline and later the Trident systems. The group also had a responsibility for assessing the viability of the American Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI), known as ‘Star Wars’, during the Reagan administration. The advice provided by the AWE group on SDI was of major importance in the decision by the Thatcher government to express its concerns about the implications and viability of the American programme.

He also played a part in the technical studies leading up to the decision by the Thatcher government to procure Trident missiles from the United States in July 1980.

In his words:

Prior to the UK’s decision to buy the Trident system I worked on potential high beta vehicle concepts including the requirements for fuzing options and this led to the development of UK’s first re-entry plasma code which was necessary for the assessment of radar interference. This led to closer collaboration with US colleagues who were then ahead in this field. I was also a member of the initial AWE party to visit the US and who were tasked to carry out a technical assessment of those parts of the Trident system which were being procured[37].

Together with Chris Hall also from Aldermaston, and two US scientific colleagues from the Sandia Laboratory, Stan Spray and Richard Swoebel, Malcolm Jones identified a gap in nuclear weapons safety methodology in 1992. Each technical area of cooperation had its own safety aspects, but there was nothing that looked across the board in terms of assessment methodologies bringing all information together in a systems context. To fill this gap a Joint Working Group (JOWOG 44) was set up, which he chaired until 2016. As Chair of JOWOG 44, he was also a member of an Enhanced Cooperation group (EC12), which was concerned with concepts relating to Enhanced Nuclear Safety.

Malcolm Jones was highly regarded by his colleagues in the United States. For a number of years AWE’s Chief Scientist, Ken Johnson, sat as the UK member of an independent review panel which assessed the effectiveness of Sandia Laboratories’ Surety organisation. The panel consisted of senior retired or semi-retired members from the US Department of Energy, the US nuclear weapons design laboratories, as well as external agencies such as NASA and the US military. The panel was designed to assess the safety, performance and security of Sandia’s nuclear weapons stockpile programme. After the Chief Scientist stepped down from his membership of the review panel. Malcolm Jones was asked to take his place[38].

In his career Malcolm Jones gave keynote addresses and lectures at numerous international conferences and represented AWE and the MoD at various events, including anniversary celebrations at Russian nuclear weapons design laboratories after the end of the Cold War. He also received an award from the All Russian Research Institute for Automatics for work he did on fostering nuclear safety. Other honours included the MBE and the John Challens medal, which is AWE’s principal award for continued high quality lifetime contribution to Science, Engineering, Technology and Mathematics. In 2019 he was still working as an independent adviser on the safety of the UK’s nuclear programme and as a panel review member engaged in advising AWE’s senior management on the direction and needs for current and future programmes.