Nuclear Power Policies in Britain

Nuclear Power Policies in Britain

The Quandaries of Neoliberalism

By Lucie de Carvalho

Anthem Studies in British History

This book analyses Britain’s most recent nuclear project launched in the mid-2000s against a backdrop of rising international concerns about energy security and climate change mitigation. This case study offers insight into the public policy dynamics at work in British nuclear policies and confronts them to the prevailing neoliberal doctrine.

Hardback, 232 Pages


October 2022

£80.00, $125.00

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About This Book

Over the past decade, the impending environmental crisis has given birth to an international consensus on the need to address climate change, accompanied by a renewed interest in carbon emissions, energy consumption and energy production. Many Western countries are now set to transition towards a low-carbon economic structure. Energy choices have become, now and more than ever, highly critical questions due to their fundamentally political, strategic, geopolitical, economic, social and cultural impacts.

Since the mid-2000s, the British government has been actively involved in reforming the country’s energy strategy by encouraging the development of renewables and promoting the revival of the national nuclear industry, which had laid almost dormant until then. Seeing the UK government take back control of its energy strategy represented a rather bold and surprising political move, given the neoliberal dynamics which had spread in the energy sector during the privatisation era of the 1980s and1990s. There are currently about seventy reactors under construction in the world; yet, the British programme is the only one building nuclear reactors (Hinkley Point C) in a liberalised energy market. Consequently, many doubts were raised on the ability of the government to reshape the country’s energy mix through the revival of nuclear power, an industry historically blighted by financial difficulties and its controversial legacy. 

Nuclear Power Policies in Britain analyses the UK state’s capacity to shape energy decision-making using a diverse toolbox of political instruments ranging from legislative, regulatory and communication levers to financial incentives. This case study determines how the current UK public policy on nuclear energy has been debated, legitimised, negotiated and implemented within the constraints of a neoliberal environment. By taking a holistic approach to the nuclear venture, it offers valuable insight on the British approach to energy policy-making and contributes to redefining the country’s ‘technopolitical regime’ in this day and age.


‘In our energy-starved world, this book provides a timely and fascinating study of the politics of nuclear power in the UK, which combines scholarly mastery, sophisticated argumentation and a powerful thesis. The author successfully turns a complex, under-researched and seemingly forbidding topic into a highly stimulating, enjoyable read.’ —Emmanuelle Avril, Professor of Contemporary Politics and Society, Sorbonne Nouvelle University.

‘Guiding the reader through the key turning points in the seven-decades-long journey of nuclear power in the UK, Lucie Carvalho masterly demonstrates the interrelatedness of state power and nuclear power. The fortunes of nuclear power have been at the mercy of shifting governance fashions, while the nuclear sector has in turn decisively shaped the evolution of UK governance, from the post-war state-centrism, through the Thatcherite revolution, to today’s complex hybrid governance’ —Dr Markku Lehtonen Researcher, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona.

‘The UK nuclear renaissance is one of the most intriguing enigmas of the energy sector in the last twenty years. Why did the UK government choose to support this contested energy? Why did it accept to cover the extra costs and the market risk in a country dominated by a liberal energy policy? In this book, Lucie de Carvalho solves this enigma by in-depth investigation of decision-making in UK energy policy’ —Thomas Reverdy, Professor of Sociology, Université Grenoble Alpes, PACTE, CNRS, Grenoble INP Graduate School of Engineering and Management.

Nuclear Power Policies in Britain is not about the science or technology of nuclear energy. Rather, it is a densely written political science doctoral thesis on the important societal decision-making processes of governmental and market forces in Great Britain and the contrasts between the two modes. The key question is how and why did British society oscillate between supporting and denigrating civilian nuclear power. This question unfolds within the theoretical and practical context of neoliberalism, which curtails the ability of the state to innovate technological solutions and assert policy programs. Nonscientists will be interested by the history of the concurrent development of nuclear weapons and nuclear electricity in the UK, as well as the nation's drive to fulfill the motto "Britain leads the world" and the resulting "war of the reactors" between British and foreign-designed reactors. The book has occasional lapses of good English writing style. - A. M. Saperstein, emeritus, Wayne State University

Author Information

Lucie de Carvalho is a senior lecturer in British Politics and History at the University of Lille, France. Her research focuses on State governance and Britain’s energy and environmental policies since 1979.


Anthem Studies in British History

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements; List of Abbreviations; List of Graphs, Tables and Figures; Introduction; Part I Agenda-Setting, Chapter One The British Nuclear State: An Anatomy; Chapter Two The Discursive (De) politicisation of Nuclear Power; Part II Policy-Design, Chapter Three The UK Nuclear Renaissance: Towards a New Paradigm for Experts/Citizens/Politics Relations; Part III Policy Implementation, Chapter Four Transcending the Private–Public Nexus in Reviving the British Nuclear Industry; Chapter Five Nuclear as a Transboundary Object: The Weight of Subnational and Supranational Dynamics; Chapter Six The State and Energy Markets: Neoliberal Interventionism in Market Regulation; Selected Bibliography; Index


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