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Call for submissions, Business History Special Issue: The Atomic Business: Structures and Strategies

Special Issue Call for Papers

The Atomic Business: Structures and Strategies

Deadline to submit proposals is October 1st, 2019. 

From 1955 to 1980 thirty countries began building and operating commercial nuclear reactors. One hundred were built within the United States by five North American Multinationals. Yet the global sales of nuclear reactors constituted a tight market and a great business opportunity for industrial economies such as the UK, West Germany and France. But the construction and operation of nuclear power plants was a complex and hazardous technological challenge, within the reach of only a few countries. Prior to the sale of a nuclear power plant, one had to evaluate the importing country’s capacity for receiving this almost unknown technology (technological absorption capacity) in terms of the country’s macroeconomic expectations (economic and financial capacity), the electricity production and consumption system (electrical grid), and the level of industrial development (Drogan, 2016).

And yet, in the narratives of the great milestones of atomic history, the economic aspects seem marginal. There are good accounts of nuclear programs in capitalist democracies [the United States (Balogh, 1991), West Germany (Radkau and Lothar, 2013), France (Hecht, 1998), and Britain (Hall, 1986)] and in the communist world [the U.S.S.R., East Germany (Müller, 2001, Schmid, 2015)], and under long dictatorships such as Argentina, Brazil or Spain [Maella et al. (2015), Rubio-Varas et al (2017)].  Yet, it is possible to say that a history that includes the companies, the strategies and structures chosen to develop this form of energy with the tools of the economic historians has scarcely begun.

This absence of business history is surprising because from the beginning of the nuclear age there was a concern about the financing of atomic projects, national and international institutions considered the economic aspects as strategic, business consortia emerged and international transfer of knowhow became crucial (OEEC, 1959; Maxwell et al, 1959; Federal Power Commission, 1971). Neither is there a business history that explains the nuclear ecosystem (Scurlock, 2007), the industrial infrastructures, the markets, the attitudes of the entrepreneurs and the institutional influence. By their part, the business histories of the electricity utilities and regulation tend to treat in only passing (if at all) the nuclear endeavours (Chick, 2007; Hausman et al, 2007; Hausman and Neufeld, 2011; Madureira, 2017), with only few exceptions (Pope, 2011). All in all, the business history of nuclear applications remains on its infancy despite the sheer amount of research devoted to the history of nuclear programs across the globe.

With this Special Issue we want to connect to the international business and strategy literature. A business history approach has great potential to explain the economic and business history of nuclear energy. International business scholars have pointed to the potentially effects of multinationals on host countries transferring technological knowledge and organizational capabilities (Smith, 1998; Jones & Khanna, 2006; Buckley, 2009). As a theoretical concept in business history ‘learning by doing’ is defined as one of the processes by which firms, markets, and countries address uncertainty and imperfect and asymmetric information (Lamoreaux et al, 1999). Most recently research enriches the debate by focusing on staffing strategies and knowledge transfer from advanced to developing economies including other variables (stock of human capital, corporate decisions, the ability of local partners to internalize the new knowledge) (Meyer at al., 2011; Verbeke & Kano, 2015; Álvaro, 2014; De la Torre & Rubio-Varas, 2018; Álvaro & Puig, 2018).

By supplying an international historical perspective on the development of civil nuclear uses from its origins in to the present with particular emphasis on the business strategies and structures adopted this Special Issue aims at filling these gaps in the literature.

Contributions to the Special Issue should engage with any of the following broad topics:


  • The creation of the industrial and financial frameworks required for the development of civil nuclear programs.
  • The business history of the companies involved with nuclear programs or the development of individual nuclear projects.
  • Other peaceful uses of the atom that had an industrial application (specially on agriculture and food industry).
  • Business histories dealing with the nuclear impact in the armament industry.


For more information about the submission guidelines and process please visit Business History's call for papers.

Guest Editors are Prof. Rubio-Varas, Associate Professor of Economic History at the Economics Department of Universidad Pública de Navarra (UPNA) and researcher at the Institute for Advanced Research of Business and Economics (INARBE), Prof. De la Torre is Professor of Economic History at the Department of economics at Universidad Pública de Navarra (UPNA), and Prof. Connors, Assistant Professor at Durham University Business School and Fellow of the Durham Energy Institute.


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