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Safeguarding the United Kingdom’s civil nuclear heritage for future generations

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9:00 AM, Jeudi 1 Sep 2022 (20 minutes)
The civil nuclear industry has evolved since its inception in the 1940s and has encountered issues with “belonging and social acceptability” (one of the conference themes) due to the challenges of safe waste disposal and links to nuclear weapons and causing cancers. Nuclear cultural heritage is relatively new in the field of industrial heritage and is thus viewed as controversial by many. However, the audience for it has the potential to grow and this has been shown after the unexpected global success of the 2019 HBO TV series “Chernobyl” and the resulting increase in tourists to Ukraine and Lithuania. Industrial heritage and “dark tourism” are attracting new types of museum and heritage site visitors, particularly the younger generation. This paper details how the United Kingdom’s civil nuclear industry has started to capture, preserve and celebrate its cultural heritage. The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) is a non-departmental public body of the UK’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, formed by the Energy Act 2004. The NDA’s priority is to decommission the UK’s 17 civil nuclear sites, a task which will not be fully complete for another 300 years. It has an information governance strategy and a group-wide implementation programme which includes addressing cultural heritage requirements. The first phase tackled the issue of collating the UK’s nuclear records into a single location and making these accessible electronically. This was achieved by building a £20M archive in the North of Scotland at Wick in Caithness. It opened in 2017 and is called Nucleus: The Nuclear and Caithness Archives. It incorporates the local government authority’s Caithness archive which is intended to help sustain and add to the level of interest in local history as well as the history of the UK nuclear industry. Boosting the economy of a rural community was the key factor in deciding its location and the creation of over 70 jobs has meant it is a great success. Nucleus achieved accredited archive status and national place of deposit status in 2020. Its striking modern design has resulted in numerous design awards, including being named as the best building in Scotland. The heritage initiative has continued with the establishment of a governance framework to oversee the development and delivery of cultural heritage plans for each site. The Heritage Governance Group is chaired by an appointed NDA Heritage Officer and includes external representatives from national heritage organisations, museums and archives, covering England, Scotland and Wales. An overarching guideline document was issued in 2020 to help sites cover all aspects of cultural heritage. It includes reviewing records for historic significance, collecting historic artefacts, community engagement and outreach, oral history, contemporary art projects, building recording and commemoration. However, in the current constrained funding environment, cost benefit and socio-economic considerations have a significant impact on the scope of delivery. The concept of the archive as a “hub”, a single point of access, linking to other appropriate repositories across the UK, minimises direct cost. The NDA, in conjunction with the Dounreay site management company, considered socio economics in 2007 when Dounreay’s visitor centre became unfit for purpose. Collaborating with other organisations, it helped fund and build a new £4M museum in the local town of Thurso. One of the permanent exhibitions was about Dounreay’s nuclear heritage, which has been a managed project since publication of the site’s heritage strategy in 2010. The Caithness Horizons museum became a significant attraction for locals and tourists alike and created 12 jobs. The two socio economic examples in Caithness show what can done to enhance industrial heritage and may be a model for other industries.

James Gunn


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