Mobilizing Modernity: The Nuclear Moment

Mobilizing Modernity: The Nuclear Moment

Mobilizing Modernity: The Nuclear Moment

Mobilizing Modernity: The Nuclear Moment

Synopsis

During the nuclear heyday of the post-war years advocates of atomic power promised cheap electricity and a prosperous future. From the present, however, this promise seems tarnished by accidents, leaks and a lack of public confidence. Mobilising Modernity traces this journey from confidence in technology to the anxieties of the Risk Society questioning a number of conventional wisdoms en route. Paying close attention to social, political and policy aspects throughout, this book considers: * the nuclear moment from global collaborative project at Los Alamos to fragmented, bitterly competing projects * the 'atomic science movement's' use of symbolic resources to win national ascendancy * the implications of secrecy and the establishment of quasi-commercial organisations within the nuclear industry. This fascinating study also argues for the ongoing importance of the non-violent direct action groups that flourished during the 1970s, showing their continuing influence on today's new social movements. Welsh concludes by considering the implications of this historically based account for contemporary issues of risk and trust on current policy-making.

Excerpt

I grew up in a house where drafts were prevented from blowing round ill-fitting doors by 'atomic strip', where we were kept warm by 'radiation' gas fires. As a youngster I peered with eager anticipation from train windows hoping to catch a glimpse of the atomic power station being built at Hartlepool. It was impossible to know whether I had actually seen it as neither I, nor the accompanying adults, had a clear picture of what one of these fantastic creations looked like. There was, however, a great sense of excitement that one of these glamorous reactors was to be built in the north-east of England. The excitement was communicated via school and news bulletins with their fantastic comparisons of British atomic prowess and Russian space technology. In my naivety I expected to see something as sleek and other-worldly as a rocket or sputnik from the train window and was thus blind to the innocuous cuboid structure which contained the wonders of the atom.

These anecdotal observations illustrate the extent to which nuclear metaphor had become positively linked to both the most mundane domestic items and transcendant visions of progress by the early 1960s. Later I marched around a school playground chanting 'ban the bomb' along with the majority of other children. Our passive occupation of the playground and refusal to return to lessons until something was done about 'the bomb' resulted in a stern lecture from the headmaster and block detention for everyone involved. The link between 'the bomb' and nuclear power was never fully made in the public mind, being displaced by President Eisenhower's Atoms for Peace initiative. This was the rosy dawn of the atomic and nuclear age. In common with all technologically inspired new ages, including the space age, the information age and the genetic engineering age, the rosy dawn was supposed to banish the dark shadows currently afflicting society. As is so often the case with rosy dawns it led to a rather bleak midday and, to pursue the analogy, an absolutely dismal mid-afternoon leading into an almost perpetual twilight as nuclear power is apparently left to wither on the vine of failed promise. Why then write another book on the nuclear case through a predominantly British lens when several already exist (e.g. Gowing 1964, 1974; Williams 1980; Wynne

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