Nuclear Cultural Heritage: From Knowledge to Practice

Lead Research Organisation: Kingston University
Department Name: Sch of Law Social & Behavioural Sciences


This research networking project focuses on the emerging field of nuclear cultural heritage. It aims to establish unprecedented links between national and international nuclear cultural heritage researchers and the heritage sector on the one hand, and the nuclear sector on the other. It will create an interdisciplinary network which will serve as a platform to describe nuclear cultural heritage in select European and non-European countries as well as to develop new research, exhibition and public engagement strategies.

The notion of nuclear cultural heritage is new to heritage studies and practice: it refers to a wide range of tangible and intangible objects, such as decommissioned power plants, museum exhibits, landscapes and communities that are associated with the civil and military nuclear industry. The concept of nuclear cultural heritage that this project will develop will provide ways of responding to pressing challenges experienced by nuclear nations, such as the management of nuclear waste and military arsenals, the future of the nuclear energy industry, and the need to reassess the wider social and cultural legacy of the nuclear past. Innovative initiatives to construct archives, museums, sites and exhibitions of nuclear cultural heritage have been emerging in different countries: for instance, the UK's Dounreay and Russia's Obninsk nuclear power plants have been undergoing transformation into cultural heritage sites. However, there is very little international cooperation in this field.

This research networking project will bridge this gap by providing an international forum for leading social science and humanities scholars and heritage practitioners to examine the state of the art in this field and identify common issues in relation to collecting, interpreting and governing nuclear cultural heritage. In doing this, the project responds to the AHRC Heritage Research Strategy connecting arts and humanities with science and technology as well as practice.

The project outcomes will be a) the establishment of a new network for sustained national and international cooperation among participating scholars and nuclear heritage institutions, b) development of a new understanding of key national and international issues in the making of what this project describes as nuclear cultural heritage by bringing together different stakeholders such as academic researchers, museum practitioners and nuclear industry professionals; and c) the development of a set of guidelines aimed at future nuclear heritage practitioners.

Planned Impact

This research networking project will bring together different stakeholders to define the concept of nuclear cultural heritage and explore the areas of its application in practice. Stakeholders include academic researchers, cultural heritage curators and art professionals and nuclear industry professionals, who will represent such organisations as the Science Museum in London, Caithness Horizons Museum, Dounreay Nuclear Power Plant, Khlopin Radium Museum in Russia and the Architecture Fund in Lithuania. Given that nuclear cultural heritage is a new field of academic research and practice, the project's central idea is to explore possible pathways for its societal impact. The urgency for such an engagement emerged from a pilot stakeholder meeting at the Science Museum, organised by the PI in July 2017 and which led to this bid.

The anticipated impacts are as follows (for Pathways to Impact please see a separate attachment). First, the project will create and grow a unique network of experts to exchange and augment knowledge, methods and practices in the field of nuclear cultural heritage. Further, the core network group will develop a set of guidelines for nuclear cultural heritage managers and policy makers, which will be published in a final report. The report will be distributed to relevant organisations, such as science and technology museums, nuclear sites undergoing decommissioning, and cultural and nuclear policy authorities. The report will be made available open access on the project's website and participating universities' databases. The report is expected to have an important impact by raising awareness of the character of nuclear cultural heritage, its needs and potential among a range of different stakeholders that are located outside the immediate network, such as regional, national and international cultural and nuclear policy makers.

The principal beneficiaries of the research are: practitioners who are already active in the development of nuclear cultural heritage, those museum and heritage professionals specialising in the history of science and technology and the twentieth century; and nuclear industry agencies, particularly bodies responsible for decommissioning nuclear installations. Further beneficiaries would include the representatives of relevant communities, such as nuclear workers and residents in the nuclear areas, and finally, cultural and heritage policy-makers at national, regional and local levels.
UK heritage practitioners will benefit from the opportunity to establish links with leading academic researchers and practitioners from the UK and other participating countries. This will enable heritage practitioners to discover new ways of articulating nuclear cultural heritage, identifying new issues and attending to them in their own professional practice.
In addition to internationalisation, UK academic researchers will benefit from the opportunity: 1) to inform their own research with real life problems faced by the nuclear cultural heritage sector, 2) to identify new areas for future knowledge transfer schemes, e.g. exploring how new concepts and narratives could be introduced into nuclear heritage practice.
Because of a limited timescale, budget and scope, the proposed network does not directly involve local community members. The principal concern is the definition of nuclear cultural heritage as it is emerging from academic research and professional heritage practice. However, local community stakeholders will benefit in the longer term, as the network is planned to grow. Furthermore, this network will lay the basis for a large scale research project bid, which will seek to develop a strategy of fully fledged engagement of communities in the creation of nuclear cultural heritage.
The overall impact on the economy is difficult to anticipate and measure, but regional authorities expect that nuclear cultural heritage could attract tourism (Thurso, Obninsk).


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