The Beam research group produces qualitative social research based on long-term, comparative ethnographic study of nuclear waste management and decommissioning, and energy practices and policies. The Beam forms the core of a collaborative, cross-disciplinary, international research network hosted by the University of Manchester’s Dalton Nuclear Institute and the School of Social Sciences.
We focus on the questions, conversations, and controversies provoked by nuclear science, industry, and publics to shape and contribute to debates on the more general issues of energy infrastructures, climate change, forecasting, ethics, robotics, labour relations, environmental politics, corporate and governmental rhetoric, public engagement, and changing organisational and management structures. Ethnography is at the heart of our research.
The Beam draws on experience and views from many different perspectives and positions to provoke discussion and share insight, and to generate new research outcomes. The network connects researchers across the humanities and social sciences to those working in the nuclear sciences and in engineering. One way of doing this is through seminars and workshops; examples include the workshops on ‘Sellafield end states’ that we organised in 2019, a seminar series ‘Making the unknown knowable’ in April-May 2021, or the interdisciplinary event in May 2022 on the tensions and entanglements between ‘repetition’ and ‘sustainability’.
In February 2022 we launched a cross-faculty post-graduate module in ‘Nuclear Science and Engineering as Social Practice’ (which was preceded by a short series of on-line mini-lectures). We have several research projects on the go, and a new four-year ESRC-funded project beginning in May 2022 on nuclear decommissioning and waste management as opportunities for future making through imaginative societal and ecological modelling.
The knowledge exchange that occurs between the Beam and nuclear players and communities raises stimulating questions regarding the angle and positionality of our research. We get frustrated by the view that the social sciences exist primarily to solve societal problems. Our research does not begin from a desire to either support or denounce ‘industry’ or ‘communities’. Instead, we seek to critically engage with and analyse the practices and discourses that emerge in the contested and uncertain spaces of energy provision, technological innovation, environmental transformations, climate change, and democratic participation. As we insist on the independence of our work whilst negotiating, reflecting on, and benefiting from our insider-outsider positionality, the valuable insights from this knowledge exchange feed into our ethnographies and keep shaping the manifold relations, and tensions, that enrich our ethnographic work.
Whilst the Beam as such consists in a core group of researchers, we build links with research clusters that go well beyond the nuclear, including Manchester’s Humanities Faculty, Earth Sciences, School of Environment, Education and Development, Centre for History of Science, Technology and Medicine, Sustainable Consumption Institute, Urban Institute, the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, and the Manchester research beacons for energy and for sustainable futures. We work closely with artists and museum/heritage researchers and professionals, with technical and social entrepreneurs, with NGOs and with government agencies (including local government and regulatory bodies).
Meet the team
The Beam is managed by a cross-disciplinary team at The University of Manchester.
BNFL Chair in Nuclear Energy Systems, Dalton Nuclear Institute, The University of Manchester
BNFL Chair in Nuclear Energy and Society, Dalton Nuclear Institute, The University of Manchester