Our research at The University of Manchester seeks to find new ways of addressing social awareness and understanding of the civil nuclear industry by exploring research collaborations across a range of disciplines, including the nuclear sciences, anthropology, organisation and business, law, history, and science and technology studies. Whilst there is much research on things like ‘values and attitudes’, our research brings a more social and holistic approach. Our inter-disciplinary expertise and collaborative approach allow us to explore deeper social and political dynamics that will help us understand how attitudes are made and embedded and how they may be made and re-made. We are also interested in how dominant approaches within government, industry and policy-making circles might need to change in order to accommodate a more rigorous understanding of things normally cast as ‘the social’. We believe that grasping current preoccupations and debates in the industry may allow us to develop new insights into controversies surrounding the nuclear, including the development of new technologies, the provision of geological disposal facilities, and new build as a solution to current anxieties over energy.
Drawing on expertise in social anthropology, business and management studies, engineering and the nuclear sciences, we employ ethnographic research in an effort to shed new light on the nuclear industry and its operations. We also experiment with new cutting-edge methods developed at the forefront of the social sciences, including forms of ‘participant observation’ and the application of ‘hybrid forums’. In these ways we seek to explore what we call the varied social imaginaries that organize the industry and to enrich our understanding about, for example, the various futures for the nuclear industry, and about its history and histories (in the plural). Are visions or fears around nuclear power shared? If so, how do people come to their understandings? If so, how are these visions ‘created’, or what explains these understandings? We also ask questions that might appear a little odd to many in the industry: What are the forgotten futures of the nuclear promise/threat? How do utopian hopes and dystopian fears play out in contemporary political and organizational practices associated with the management and operation of the nuclear industry? Is there a coming new nuclear age, new nuclear futures? Or is the future one of coming to terms with the legacies of the old (waste, contamination), legacies that we still might not fully understand or have the expertise to monitor and record.