John Collier was born on 22 January 1935, was educated at St Paul's School and after completing his O Levels, joined the Atomic Energy Research Establishment, Harwell as a student apprentice in mechanical and chemical engineering. The apprenticeship involved two years in the workshops at Harwell, with time off for evening study, working for his A Levels at Oxford Technical College. It was quickly recognised that he was a young man of remarkable ability and Harwell seconded him to University College London to take a degree in chemical engineering. He graduated with first class honours in 1956 and was then appointed as Scientific Officer in the Chemical Engineering Division at Harwell.
John Collier's career with UKAEA spanned almost four decades from 1951-1990 from his appointment as an apprentice to the time when he discontinued his chairmanship of the organisation in 1990 (to become Chairman of Nuclear Electric plc). During this time his range of responsibilities and interests developed rapidly and he held a number of different roles within the organisation: Head of the Engineering Sciences Group on his return to Harwell in 1970; Head of the Chemical Engineering Division in 1975; a member of the Atomic Energy Technical Unit from 1979 to 1981; director of Technical Studies (1981-1982) before becoming Director of the Safety & Reliability Directorate of the UKAEA in Culcheth (1982-1983).
However, his career with UKAEA was not a continuous one and he spent a number of periods away from the organisation, all of which played a formative role in his development as a leading authority in nuclear power and its applications and gave him a breadth of viewpoint that contributed to his great success as a leader and manager in the field.
As well as his spell away in 1953-1956 to study for his degree; he was Section Head and then Branch Head of the Experimental Engineering Branch of the Advanced Reactor Engineering Division of the Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd (AECL) in Chalk River, Ontario from 1962 to 1964 on leave of absence from the UKAEA; in 1966 he temporarily left UKAEA to become Head of the Engineering Division of Atomic Power Constructions Ltd (APC) in their Research & Development Laboratory at Heston; and finally in 1983 he became Director General of the Generation Development & Construction Division of the CEGB, before returning to UKAEA in 1986 as Deputy Chairman, subsequently becoming Chairman in 1987.
As Chairman he initiated the process of commercialisation that ultimately led to the private company AEA Technology plc. He also advised the Government that the Advanced Gas Cooled Reactor (AGR) stations could achieve at least a 50% improvement in output.
In 1988 the privatisation of the non-nuclear part of the electricity industry led to the formation of National Power and PowerGen as the main generating companies. The nuclear sector remained in public ownership under two new companies: Nuclear Electric plc and, in Scotland, Scottish Nuclear plc, and the strategic vision, integrity and deep knowledge of nuclear power shown by John Collier, who by then had been Chairman of UKAEA for two years, made him a natural choice for the chairmanship of Nuclear Electric on its formation.
On taking on this chairmanship, he set himself two main tasks. The first was to make the company into a viable and successful organisation, and the second was to increase public understanding and awareness of nuclear power, the latter being achieved through a number of public lectures.
He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering in 1988 and a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1990. In 1988 he was awarded an Honorary DSc at Cranfield University and in 1993 an Honorary DEng at Bristol University.
His untimely death on 18 November 1995, at the age of 60, occurred while he was in office as President of the Institution.