By Max Liboiron
We all know waste doesn’t go “away.” We know about landfills, transfer stations, blue boxes, and ocean plastics. We know special types of waste, such as nuclear waste, has similar infrastructure, but imagine that infrastructure is somewhere “away.” Or is it?
Repository: A Typological Guide to America’s Ephemeral Nuclear Infrastructure,is a 42-card deck designed to help you spot and identify today’s temporary solutions for the storage of radioactive waste, as you pass by them on the highway or as they pass by you. (Everday!)
These cards are an artful, humorous way to communicate the enduring dilemma of nuclear waste and the material and infrastructural stop gaps used to not-quite-contain it for the lifespan of our species. That’s an awful lot to put in a card set. Issues of communication have long surrounded nuclear waste. The titillating-terrifying “Expert Judgment on Markers To Deter Inadvertent Human Intrusion Into the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant,” commissioned by the Department of Energy in 1991 is a conceptual plan for a ten thousand year marker system for the WIPP nuclear storage facility. The plan involved thirteen linguists, scientists, science fiction writers and anthropologists trying to create a “Keep out” sign that would transcend changes in language, culture, and even species. The results are elegantly complex and, some would argue, futile. The temporarily and danger of nuclear waste exceeds our ability to describe it.
But what about describing the materiality– including the geography, architecture, and circulation– of nuclear waste today? This is where the artists who created Repository: A Typological Guide to America’s Ephemeral Nuclear Infrastructure come in: “Repository chronicles “temporary” infrastructures designed (or simply used) to contain nuclear waste until more enduring facilities can be researched and constructed. Some of the cards feature structures that take notably unique approaches to storage. Others exemplify common infrastructural forms or approaches that run through multiple facilities, or function as mobile infrastructures for transporting radioactive waste between sites. As with other Smudge [Studio] projects, we invite audiences to expand their capacities to imagine the monumental time spans required to contain and monitor nuclear materials, and to consider the extraordinary challenges that they present to designers, architects and engineers.” I look forward to using these cards to spark questions about million-year-architecture.
Repository: A Typological Guide to America’s Ephemeral Nuclear Infrastructure will launch Friday, July 6, 7pm at Proteus Gowanus, 543 Union Street, Brooklyn, NY. Artists Lado Pochkhua, Sal Randolph and anthropologist Eben Kirksey will be there for conversation and a viewing of their Migration work, part of the lager series Repository is part of.
Max Liboiron is a postdoctoral researcher with the Intel Science and Technology Center for Social Computing and the Superstorm Research Lab.