It is located on the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus at Chilton near Didcot in Oxfordshire, United Kingdom. It has a staff of approximately 1,200 people who support the work of over 10,000 scientists and engineers, chiefly from the university research community. The laboratory's programme is designed to deliver trained manpower and economic growth for the UK as the result of achievements in science.
To be able to decide the priorities for government funding across all areas of scientific research, the Science & Technology Act of 1965 created the Science Research Council (SRC) which took over management of the Rutherford High Energy Laboratory from NIRNS along with many other previously disparate UK science bodies. To prioritise economic impact over blue skies research, the SRC became the Science and Engineering Research Council (SERC) in the early 1980s, and in 1994, the SERC was eventually divided into three Research Councils (the EPSRC, PPARC and the CCLRC – which took responsibility for RAL from EPSRC in 1995), so that each could then focus its development around one of three incompatible business models – administratively efficient short duration grant distribution, medium term commitments to international agreements, long term commitments to staff and facilities provision. To unify the planning of the provision for UK scientists to access large national and international facilities, in 2007 the CCLRC merged with PPARC and incorporated the nuclear physics discipline from EPSRC to create the Science and Technology Facilities Council which then took responsibility for RAL.
The site hosts some of the UK's major scientific facilities, including:
In addition to hosting facilities for the UK, RAL also operates departments to co-ordinate the UK programme of participation in major international facilities. The largest of these are the areas of particle physics, and space science.
In space science, RAL builds components for, and tests satellites, as well as receiving, analysing and curating the data collected by those spacecraft. Satellite missions in which RAL has a significant role include:
The team at the ALMA project's European Front End Integration Centre at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, UK.
the STEREO Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory,
Badr-B, developed the CCD cameras for the satellite.
In recent years, there has been an increasing political drive towards requiring that the science undertaken at RAL and the technology created there result in a proportional economic benefit to the UK to justify the investment of public funds in the laboratory. RAL management have argued that this is achieved in various ways, including:
From the commercial products and services resulting from the scientific results which are achieved on the facilities at RAL (e.g., through new materials, new drugs etc.).
Through the early warning of disasters predicted from terrestrial and space data acquired and analysed at RAL (e.g., radio/mobile phone interference predictions, severe weather predictions etc.).
Through the training of specialist scientists and engineers at RAL, who then move into commercial companies.
Through the standardisation of technologies which has resulted in the acceleration of economic growth through interoperability and interchangeability of products — especially in computing.
By the enthusiasm generated in science by the results of large facilities (e.g., from astronomical images or from particle physics experiments), which leads to schoolchildren choosing scientific training and scientific careers in many fields.
By technologies developed at RAL during the development of facilities themselves, which are then licensed to UK companies, or spin-out companies.
According to its Annual Report from 2017-2018, STFC expects the end of the ISIS pulsed neutron source and the associated Second Target Station to be in 2040 and anticipates decommissioning to take 55 years. The cost of radioactive waste disposal could range between £9 million and £16 million.:51
^"Science and Technology Facilities Council". Science and Technology Facilities Council. 23 June 2005. Retrieved 2 November 2008.
^Pickavance, T. G. (January 1955). "Proton linear accelerators for nuclear research, and the A.E.R.E. 600 MeV project". Il Nuovo Cimento. 2 (S1): 413–422. Bibcode:1955NCim....2S.413P. doi:10.1007/BF02746099.
^"Inside the ISIS linear particle accelerator". Science and Technology Facilities Council. 6 March 2011. Retrieved 17 July 2012.