Defending Modernity? Communicating with the Public about Nuclear Energy: Historical Perspectives

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leicester
Department Name: Sch of Historical Studies


Since it emerged into the public eye in the 1940s the British nuclear establishment has worked hard to manage its public image and retain public trust. It has done so in the face of opposition that has grown particularly vocal since the 1970s and as economic arguments for the nuclear programme have become increasing difficult to sustain. To do this it pioneered new techniques for what is now known as science communication, from public talks and leaflets, exhibitions and visitor centres, information films and videos and privatisation publicity to a spectacular nuclear train crash that was broadcast live to the nation.

These activities are well-documented in The National Archives, but apart from the fire in 1957, have received little attention. Instead scholars have concentrated on opponents of nuclear power. This literature has also portrayed the nuclear industry and the people within it in simplistic and homogenous terms, whilst stressing the diversity within the protest movement.

This project will fill this gap by focussing on how Government departments and state agencies that supported the development of nuclear power promoted and defended their commitment from the late 1950s. The student will explore how
organisations formulated their external communications strategies, collaborated with (and challenged) each other, the wider industry and international associates and how these strategies changed over time. The project is framed as a contribution to the history of science communication but it will also offer lessons for current policy makers, including those interested in major infrastructure projects.


10 25 50
Description University of Leicester Doctoral College Grant
Amount £400 (GBP)
Organisation University of Leicester 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2019 
End 06/2019
Description Article for The Conversation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Article in The Conversation on the language of disaster preparations.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description BBC History Magazine 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Article in BBC on disaster planning.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019