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The Archaeology of Nuclear Power

Vicki Cummings and David Robinson

In recent years archaeologists have realised that entire landscapes constructed during the Cold War are now in danger of being lost forever, as they are abandoned, collapsing or being actively dismantled. One of the most important places in the history of post-World War Two Britain is Sellafield (formerly Windscale), which was critical in maintaining Britain’s place in the nuclear arms race as well as being the home of the world’s first commercial nuclear power station. However, unlike many other Cold War installations throughout Britain, Sellafield remains active. It is currently a nuclear decommissioning plant although the long-term objective for the site is for it to be decommissioned and ultimately demolished. While the global significance of Sellafield is acknowledged by historians, there has been no attempt to consider the impact of Sellafield from an archaeological perspective. Archaeologists seek to move beyond historical narratives by considering a whole range of different types of evidence to try and tease out the untold stories from our past. While we draw on approaches utilised by historians, cultural geographers and anthropologists, we focus on the material effects and material results of the interaction of people, places, architecture and things within a broader historical context. Archaeologists are able to look at everything from the minutiae of everyday life, up to the global impact of things in the long term. As such, this project will be focussed around Sellafield, addressing the archaeology of nuclear power and the impact this had at local, regional and world scales.

Archaeology Research Group