The politics of big science in a small country: The moral economy of the Belgian Nuclear Research Center 1980-2020

    Research output


    The reorganization of SCK CEN in 1991 was the starting point in the formation of a new profile for the organization. Although its political and financial support had decreased, and the public attitude had turned against nuclear power production, SCK CEN was able to establish new academic and commercial partnerships. It accordingly diversified its research objectives. The new MYRRHA project, partly funded by the European Commission, focuses on research of the treatment of nuclear waste products, and the investigation of materials to be used in nuclear fission and fusion reactions. This new orientation fits the international development of what has been termed the 'New Big Science'. The era of the Cold War was characterized by the design of so-called 'Big Science' facilities, but declining funding and declining political support led to the emergence of more diversified research centers, which had to find new sources of funding and new organizational structures. The new frame questions the position of Belgium as a small country in the international collaboration between nations. The European context calls for an increase in size but also for a distribution of costs, control and benefits. The New Big Science also touches upon the management of uncertainty in what has been called the Risk Society. The project aims at a better understanding of the current challenges facing New Big Science facilities. The organizational transformation which SCK CEN underwent in the 1990's and the articulation of a new, ambitious project (MYRRHA) can be used as prime topics for the investigation of the scientific, political and social issues surrounding the building and management of large research facilities. It will also review the relationship between science and politics, and the place of big infrastructure organizations within the overall structure of the (inter)national science system.
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • KU Leuven
    • Wils, Kaat, Supervisor
    • Vanpaemel, Geert, Supervisor
    • Geysmans, Robbe, SCK CEN Mentor
    • Meskens, Gaston, SCK CEN Mentor
    Date of Award14 Mar 2024
    StatePublished - 14 Mar 2024

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