Nuclear fission and social fusion
: the impact of the Dounreay Experimental Research Establishment on Caithness, 1953-1966

  • Linda Mary Ross

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (awarded by UHI)


This thesis examines the impact which Dounreay Experimental Research Establishment had on Caithness between 1953 and 1966. This thirteen-year period saw extensive change which affected the community, the built environment and employment patterns in the region: three related areas which form the central focus of this thesis. From the outset of the project the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority knew that it would have to import specialist technical staff into an area economically-driven by agriculture and fishing. This resulted in a distinct form of employment-based migration to the Highlands, reversing population decline in Caithness during the period of study. The choice of location, however, was not without problems. Whilst it met an extensive set of geographical requirements, its distance from major population centres caused recruitment difficulties. To counter this, the UKAEA developed a location-based range of measures to facilitate the effective operation of its site, including the provision of housing on an extensive scale.
In establishing the extent of Dounreay’s impact, this thesis reveals its role in creating a mid-twentieth century Highland counter-narrative of migration and modernity far removed from traditional discourses of depopulation. Rather than being distant from technological centres, Caithness was now at the heart of Britain’s fast breeder reactor development: in assessing this, this thesis alters the understanding of what could be achieved in an area considered ‘remote’ in the mid-twentieth century. It prioritises the local consequences of a vast project which is commonly considered at a national level. Such local impacts are as much a part of Britain’s nuclear history as national policy and practice: in foregrounding these, this thesis positions the ‘nuclear fission and social fusion’ of Dounreay at the heart of the United Kingdom’s atomic energy programme.
Date of Award4 Sept 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of the Highlands and Islands
SupervisorJim MacPherson (Supervisor), Neville Kirk (Supervisor) & Miriam McDonald (Supervisor)

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