Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Building for the Nuclear Age (1960)


Main image of Building for the Nuclear Age (1960)
16mm, colour, 23 mins
SponsorJohn Laing & Son
CommentatorRaymond Baxter

A record of the construction of large parts of the nuclear power station at Berkeley by John Laing & Son.

Show full synopsis

At the end of Building for the Nuclear Age, the voice-over speaking on behalf of the construction firm John Laing & Son, the film's sponsor, expresses the company's pride at completing, within 12 months of each other, two such landmark, pioneering projects as the M1 motorway and the world's first commercial nuclear power station at Berkeley. This clearly was a golden age for the company, and helps explain their investment in films on both subjects produced by their public relations department, in order to spread the message of their success far and wide.

Both Building for the Nuclear Age and Motorway (1959; one of two Laing films on the M1) make extensive use of aerial photography to express the truly impressive scale of the respective projects. Building for the Nuclear Age also makes use of detailed models to show cross-sections and illustrate the complexity of the build. The voice-over makes comments supporting this visual aspect, pointing out that although films on such unusual projects have a "tendency to make it all look easy," the build was anything but straightforward. Interestingly, while highlighting the project's difficulties, quality controls and extreme safety measures, the film never acknowledges the reasons for such precautions or the potential for environmental disaster if mistakes were made.

The film's title points to the coming of a 'nuclear age', and it goes on to predict "a new era of unlimited electric power". But such a futurist vision is otherwise notably absent from both form and content. Even accounting for its period, the music seems particularly old-fashioned, with the jolly, easy listening style sounding curiously inappropriate for such a modern project. Berkeley Nuclear Power Station was built on the cusp of massive changes in industry, with electronics and computers about to have a far bigger impact on our lives than nuclear power. The Magnox reactors were never as efficient, and certainly not as cost-effective, as was often claimed, and there is a sense that this prototype station is an example of a new science built with old technology - out of date before it is even completed. The film itself, in its straightforward form and 'voice-of-God' commentary, seems equally retrograde, aligned more with an industrial past than a nuclear future.

Jez Stewart

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
Complete film (21:49)
Motorway (1959)
Laing Film Unit