Professor Ramana Comes to Bristol to Talk Nuclear Energy and Weapons

M. V. Ramana is a Professor at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, and has been engaged in research about nuclear energy for over two decades. He visited the University of Bristol in September 2023 as a Bristol ‘Next Generation’ Visiting Researcher to consolidate work that advances a range of new perspectives on the safety of atomic energy.

Thanks to support from the Bristol ‘Next Generation’ Visiting Researcher Programme and my host Dr. John Downer (School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies), I visited the University of Bristol and the city of Bristol for the first time in September 2023. The main purpose of the visit was to build on our earlier collaboration, which examined safety assessments of nuclear reactors and the nature of knowledge claims about the likelihood of severe accidents. This work was based on a case study of the processes through which the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensed the “AP1000 reactor” design. This project brought together our separate backgrounds and resulted in a paper published in the journal Regulation & Governance 

During my visit, John and I spent hours discussing the contours of a collaborative monograph on the safety of nuclear reactors, and started developing a proposal to be sent to publishers. Although we had been going back and forth over email about how to structure such a monograph, our discussions, which took place over a wide variety of settings—from the School office to coffee shops to walks in Wales over a weekend day trip—really helped us move forward  

John Downer and M. V. Ramana stand in front of the Welsh coastImage: John Downer and M. V. Ramana in Southerndown, Wales 

I also gave a couple of lectures. One was titled “Small Modular Reactors And Other Nuclear Fantasies”, and it built on many papers of mine on the topic of small modular reactors, in particular ones published in Energy Research and Social Science, Science, Technology and Human Values, and in IEEE Access. In my talk, I described how nuclear energy’s declining share of global electricity generation is due to the high costs of building nuclear reactors, and how the nuclear industry hopes to deal with the economic challenges and other problems associated with nuclear power by building what are called Small Modular Reactors (SMRs). I then described some of the claimed attributes of SMRs, and explained why these are not realistic expectations. Finally, the talk discussed the broader set of fantasies that are motivating some to support nuclear energy in the face of its lack of economic competitiveness and the obvious risks associated with the technology.

The second lecture was titled “Separating The Inseparable: Civilian Nuclear Energy’s Connections To The Bomb and it built on my papers published in Nuclear Technology and Science and Global Security, as well as my book The Power of Promise on nuclear energy in India and a forthcoming book on the political economy of nuclear energy to be published by Verso books. In my talk, I traced the history of nuclear power to the beginning of the atomic age, when most knowledgeable people recognized that civilian nuclear programs could be used to produce nuclear weapons. I explained how that changed within a few years, when countries with nuclear technology started a sustained campaign to get the public to think differently about nuclear energy, most notably after President Dwight Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace speech in 1953. I then explained why there are deep connections between the two pursuits, in particular the technical overlaps between the processes used to generate nuclear energy and make material for nuclear weapons, interchangeability of personnel, and institutional imperatives. Thus, I concluded, expanding nuclear energy will necessarily increase the risk of nuclear war. 

The lectures were well attended and the questions were interesting and challenging, with the discussion becoming heated on occasion. The presence of a number of young students was gratifying, as was the fact that one of them who attended both my talks went on to post about these on LinkedIn. I also enjoyed meeting many of John’s colleagues and students, in particular Tim Edmunds and Sveta Milyaeva 

I am grateful to John and the International Research Development Team for making this trip possible.  

Professor M.V. Ramana

Provost Celebration of International Research Development


On Tuesday 31st October, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Provost of the University of Bristol, Professor Judith Squires, hosted a celebration for University staff involved in international research collaboration activities. Among the attendees were the International Research Development Team and academic staff who have hosted international visiting researchers, as well as colleagues from Bristol University Press (BUP) who champion and support international co-authored publications and the authors, editors and board members who have supported BUP’s mission and contributed to its success and development.

During a set of speeches, Professor Squires thanked attendees for contributing to the University’s international research activities, and introduced the International Research Development Manager Dr Lauren Winch who provided a summary of Bristol’s International Research Development portfolio. Some highlights from her speech are included below.

Judith Squires standing at the front of the room, giving a speech.     People at the event, mingling and talking in smaller groups.

A brief history of the International Research Development schemes

The International Research Development portfolio of schemes has at its heart an ambition to build a global community of scholars and to enhance the University of Bristol’s international reputation for research excellence and innovation. The portfolio’s flagship scheme, the Bristol Benjamin Meaker Distinguished Visiting Professorships, has its roots way back in the 1970s and has seen various iterations over time whilst remaining true to its core purpose of supporting world-leading, curiosity-driven research. Until relatively recently this scheme sat within the Institute for Advanced Studies (IAS). However, following a review in 2019 the IAS was discontinued and this portfolio of activities was re-established as part of the Research Development International team in the Division of Research, Enterprise and Innovation (DREI).

The portfolio is currently managed by Dr Lauren Winch with support from Sarah Watts (secondment cover for the substantive Research Development Officer, Samantha Barlow). It also benefits from the guidance of the Head of Research Development International, Dr Tiernan Williams, and the academic leadership of the Pro Vice-Chancellor for Global Engagement Professor Agnes Nairn, as well as support from colleagues within DREI.

While the team have retained the flagship Benjamin Meaker scheme, with some tweaks, the wider portfolio has been redeveloped and reimagined in recent years, with a number of new schemes and an enhanced focus on international research development. The Meaker scheme itself continues to attract world-leading scholars from all around the globe to come to Bristol and undertake curiosity-driven research with their University of Bristol hosts as well as engaging with our wider community, both at the University and beyond. In complement to this, in late 2019 a new Bristol ‘Next Generation’ Visiting Researcher Programme was launched, designed to support researchers to undertake blue skies research projects, exploring exciting, innovative new research spaces. Whilst the Meaker scheme is only for distinguished Professors, this new ‘Next Generation’ scheme opened the door for rising stars who might be less senior in their careers but who have shown great potential to become the distinguished Professors and research leaders of the future.

In response to the challenges of the pandemic for international research collaboration and mobility, a new new online collaborative workshops scheme was launched in 2020. This has since evolved into Bristol International Research Collaboration Activities, supporting a range of activities which can be online, in-person, or hybrid.

All of the schemes in the portfolio are intended to catalyse and cultivate ongoing research collaborations which lead to outputs including funding bids and publications. Therefore, in 2021, the Bristol Benjamin Meaker Follow-on Fund was launched to support either reciprocal or return visits, to facilitate further research development and outcomes from Bristol academics and their visitors from either the Meaker or Next Generation schemes building directly on the developments of the original visit.

Celebrating the IRD schemes

The IRD portfolio of funding schemes have led to a wide range of outcomes, including co-authored publications, policy changes, co-supervised PhDs, and real world impact. Over the last four years since the relaunch in late 2019, despite the hiatus in international travel during the peaks of the pandemic, the team has made 56 new awards. Of these, 26 awards have been in the last year alone, showing real growth and appetite among our community to resume international research development activities as we start to emerge from the pandemic. These 56 awards have brought visitors to Bristol from 17 different countries from all six of the populated continents. They have been hosted by University of Bristol academics from five of the six Faculties (and all three of the new Faculties) representing 22 different schools and departments across the University. These curiosity-driven researchers have explored a huge range of topics: from the role of British gospel choirs to the big bang and quantum gravity; from cleft palates to climate change; from Mendelian randomisation to multidimensional child poverty in Pakistan; from decolonising dentistry to dynamics of volcanic systems; and from sacred topographies to supercapacitators.

To date, the schemes have brought over 500 visitors to Bristol representing a wide range of disciplinary and methodological approaches. The current portfolio stands on the shoulders of the fantastic achievements made by the IAS and colleagues who have supported the Meaker scheme in the decades since it first launched. The IRD team were really proud and pleased to be able to bring together award holders from recent years to celebrate the successes of the reimagined IRD portfolio, and to thank each and every one for not only hosting visitors but for actively engaging and collaborating with them, developing exciting, valuable and impactful research and shaping the global research landscape together.

Authors: Lauren Winch and Sarah Watts