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Splitting Societies – Local Debates About Nuclear Energy in Britain and Germany

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The project (Funding Reference Number 01UL1706X) is, as part of the funding format “Kleine Fächer – Große Potenziale”, sponsored by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research

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Project description

Nuclear energy was at the heart of one of the most heated conflicts many civil societies were engaged in during the second half of the 20th century. Arguing that these conflicts were never limited to just an energy technology, this environmental history takes a cultural history of technology approach to analyse the debates about the ‘Peaceful Atom’ in the context of six atomic power plants in Britain and Germany from the 1950s to the 1980s.

Fields of Conflict Tied to Nuclear Energy

This study focuses on six salient fields interwoven with the nuclear debates, carving out the differences of British and German cultures of debate; the importance of trust in local experts varying in time and place; the differing value placed on emotional expressions in political arguments in Britain and Germany; the drawn-out conflict between diverse concepts of rationality and the partial devaluation of the conception in itself; the shifting balance between representative democracy and participatory elements as a precondition for the technology’s public acceptance; and the crucial role played by different utopian as well as dystopian visions in the formation and motivation of the pro- and anti-nuclear camps.

An International Comparison of Local Histories

Focussing on the public debates in and around Stade, Biblis, Lingen, Hinkley Point, Oldbury and Torness, the analysis is designed as an international comparison of six local histories. It combines the central benefits of local approaches with those of comparative methods, allowing for broader insights while paying attention to details in the ongoing, dynamic debates about nuclear power.


  • Berlin, MPI für Bildungsforschung, Workshop The Multifaceted Relationship between Fear and Technology, 11. Oktober 2018: Fears and Fission. An Analysis of Variations of Fear Around Nuclear Power.
  • Pittsburgh, PA, 42. Annual Conference of the German Studies Association, 28. September 2018: Moments of Fission—Breaking-Points of a Local Debate.
  • Hamburg, Jahrestagung der Gesellschaft für Technikgeschichte, 4. Mai 2018: Ein Herz fürs Atom. Emotionalisierte Debatten über das Kernkraftwerk Stade.
  • Braunschweig, ENTRIA-Werkstattgespräch Emotionen bei der Realisierung eines Endlagers für Atommüll, 21. Juni 2016: Furchtsam oder mutig – Vertrauen als Grundlage emotionaler Zugänge zur Kernenergie.
  • Freiburg i. Br., FRIAS, 20. November 2015: Von der Risikoberechnung zur Vertrauensfrage – Die deutsche Kernenergiedebatte am Beispiel des Kernkraftwerks Stade.
  • Interview zum Thema Risikowahrnehmung und Kernenergie bei Radio Dreyeckland, 20. November 2015: „Zwo - Eins - Risiko! Historische Debatten um die Risiken von AKWs in Deutschland“. online unter rdl.de/beitrag/zwo-eins-risiko-historische-debatten-um-die-risiken-von-akws-deutschland (Stand 29.11.2015).
  • Universität Stuttgart, „Technik, Techniker, Verantwortung“, 12. November 2015: Kritische Verantwortung – Der Verantwortungsbegriff in den Stader Debatten über Atomenergie.


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