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Going Nuclear

One of the many novel engineering feats John Laing was involved in was the birth of commercial nuclear power in Britain. The company worked on the Windscale reactors and were part of the AEI consortium that built Berkeley Power Station, the first commercial power station. The John Laing Collection has a series of fascinating images showing how very low tech the initial construction phase was and the human side of work - from tea wagons to the local postman taking an interest.
Nuclear Power Station, Berkeley, First day of arrivals to the site, 8th Jan 1957
© Historic England 2018 - The John Laing Collection No. 48773

Nuclear Power Station, Berkeley, Supplies being delivered to caravan in its temporary site, 8th Jan 1957
© Historic England 2018 - The John Laing Collection No. 48781

Nuclear Power Station, Berkeley, Local postman interested in heavy machines, 8th Jan 1957
© Historic England 2018 - The John Laing Collection No. 48778

Nuclear Power Station, Berkeley, Mobile Canteen for service of tea, 8th Jan 1957
© Historic England 2018 - The John Laing Collection No. 48730

This imagery is very different from the clean polished chrome and futuristic vision presented by more publicity aware photography commissioned I believe by the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) for Windscale. Here the message is of a positive future with the UK's "Atomic Factories" at the forefront and all is pristine and controlled, no mud in sight.

Windscale Atomic Energy Establishment - Desk in the Pile Control Room, Jan 1954
British Official Photograph Gov. 6878 © Historic England 2018 - The John Laing Collection

Windscale Atomic Energy Establishment - Kitchens for the Canteen,
Photograph supplied by U.K.A.E.A © Historic England 2018 - The John Laing Collection No. 18795

However I would argue that the images of construction teams wading through muddy fields to build the reactors are equally important in the history of nuclear power - without these people there would be no power station. This somewhat invisible narrative of the process of construction of a new type of building sits at the heart of the research I am looking to undertake.


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