New Safe Confinement

nuclearwaste_1050x700

“World leaders jostle with global executives and anonymous men dressed in full camouflage as platters of shrimp, foie gras and cheesecake are passed around by white-gloved staff. It would all seem quite normal were it not for the fact that we’re just 100m (330ft) away from the site of the worst nuclear disaster in history.

“A hospitality tent has been erected just inside the gates of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant near Pripyat in Ukraine. The tent has many windows, to ensure everyone gets a good view of what’s about to happen.

“These guests are here to witness the final stage of a 30-year clean-up job that has been underway, on and off, since one of the plant’s reactors exploded in 1986. The Chernobyl disaster still casts a pall over nuclear power. And other serious accidents, such as that at Fukushima in Japan in 2011 – the only other incident to be classified a maximum Level 7 in the seven-point International Nuclear Event Scale – are weighed against it.

“It also set in train a series of measures to ensure nuclear safety around the world. Now the whole site is about to be encased inside a vast structure known as the sarcophagus, sealing in some of the most dangerous waste material in the world for at least 100 years.

“The behemoth 35,000 tonne structure beside us has spent the past few days inching along a set of purpose built tracks towards its final destination. This sarcophagus – or New Safe Confinement (NSC) – is taller than the Statue of Liberty and larger than Wembley stadium. But what it resembles most is a very large metal shed.

“Its appearance belies its historic importance, however. The NSC is not only the largest object people have ever moved, it’s also a symbol of what we can achieve when the stakes are highest.”

Text: A Vast New Tomb for the Most Dangerous Waste In The World, BBC.com

Pic: Field of Thorns, “But what if the day in question is not today, not tomorrow, but 24,000 years from now, when no known languages are spoken? What if the enemy is not some foreign power, but an ancient civilization? And what if the great threat to human life is no longer a bomb dropping down from above but waste creeping up from below? Will art come to our rescue then?” -WILL ART SAVE OUR DESCENDANTS FROM RADIOACTIVE WASTE?, JSTOR Daily

Wither the Flowers

divers_wolgemut

“Sometime in the early fifteen hundreds several epidemics of disease probably swept T1 in close succession. If the mortality rates were similar to the rest of Honduras, ninety per cent of the inhabitants died of disease. The survivors, shattered and traumatized, prepared to abandon the city. Their final act was to gather up their sacred objects, arrange them at the base of the pyramid, smash them, and then depart, never to return.

“Europe’s Black Death, at its worst, carried off thirty to sixty per cent of the population. That was devastating, but the mortality rate wasn’t high enough to destroy European civilization. A ninety-per-cent mortality rate is high enough: it does not just kill people; it annihilates societies. The survivors are deprived of that vital human connection to their past; they are robbed of their stories, their music and dance, their spiritual practices and beliefs. Think what it would be like for you to watch all these people die—your children, parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters, your friends, your community leaders, merchants, and spiritual authorities. Imagine the wasteland left behind, the towns and cities abandoned, the fields overgrown, the houses and streets strewn with the unburied dead; envisage the wealth rendered worthless, the stench, the flies, the scavenging animals, the loneliness and silence. This inferno of contagion destroyed thousands of societies and millions of people, from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, from California to New England, from the Amazon rain forest to the tundra of Hudson Bay. It was the greatest catastrophe ever to befall the human species. The death of T1 was but one tile in this vast mosaic of annihilation.

“We have few accounts giving the Native American point of view of these pandemics. One of the most moving is a rare contemporary eye‐witness description, called the “Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel,” which recalls the two worlds, before and after contact. It was written by an Indian in the Yucatec Mayan language:

There was then no sickness; they had no aching bones; they had then no high fever; they had then no smallpox; no stomach pains; no consumption . . . At that time people stood erect. But then the teules [foreigners] arrived and everything fell apart. They brought fear, and they came to wither the flowers.

Text:  An Ancient City Emerges in a Remote Rain Forest, The New Yorker.

Image: Michael Wolgemut, Dance of the Skeletons, Liber Chronicum (“The World’s Chronical”), woodcut illustration, 1493.

To Remember, We Must Forget

maxresdefault-21

“In order to remember, we must forget. Recent research shows that when your brain retrieves newly encoded information, it suppresses older related information so that it does not interfere with the process of recall. Now a team of European researchers has identified a neural pathway that induces forgetting by actively erasing memories. The findings could eventually lead to novel treatments for conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“We’ve known since the early 1950s that a brain structure called the hippocampus is critical for memory formation and retrieval, and subsequent work using modern techniques has revealed a great deal of information about the underlying cellular mechanisms. The hippocampus contains neural circuits that loop through three of its sub-regions – the dentate gyrus and the CA3 and CA1 areas – and it’s widely believed that memories form by the strengthening and weakening of synaptic connections within these circuits.

[…]

“This is the first time that a pathway in the brain has been linked to forgetting, to actively erasing memories,” said Gross, a co-senior author of the study. “One explanation for [our findings] is that there is limited space in the brain, so when you’re learning, you have to weaken some connections to make room for others. To learn new things, you have to forget things you’ve learned before.”

“The finding that memory loss can be induced by Npy1 receptor activation alone could one day help researchers to treat conditions involving intrusive traumatic memories. “A patient suffering from intrusive traumatic memories would take a pill containing a drug that would enter the brain and activate Npy1 receptors and then be exposed to a virtual experience of the trauma,” says Gross, “and we predict that the combination of receptor activation and trauma exposure and recall would promote the selective erasure of the relevant memory.”

Text:  A neural pathway that erases memories, The Guardian.

Pic: Total Recall, 1990.

A Matter of Time

229n08751_5y2g4

“As Iraqi forces continue their military operation to take Mosul from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS), another equally important battle to save the Mosul Dam, located 60km north of Mosul, is under way. After six months of frantic security and logistical preparations, an Italian company has kicked off the repair works to beef up the dam, under the protection of five hundred Italian soldiers and Kurdish Peshmerga forces.

“The Italian company,TREVI, will have about 18 months to prevent the foundations of the dam from plunging deeper underground, averting an impending catastrophe. Experts warn that if the dam collapses, up to 11.11 billion cubic-metres of water known as Lake Dahuk, will submerge Mosul and create an inundation that will affect the lives of millionsof people living along the banks of the Tigris river.

“I don’t know if it’s a race against time, but we have the know-how and the technology to make the dam safe for the time-being,” said a company source on the phone, on condition of anonymity for security reasons…

[…]

“But scientists say the repairs are just a temporary solution and that the Iraqi population should get ready to evacuate the Tigris’ banks. “No matter how much grouting and maintenance the company will do, it may expand the life span of the dam, but it is just going to delay the disaster,” said Nadhir al-Ansari, professor of water resources and environmental engineering at Lulea University in Sweden and a published expert on the Mosul Dam.

“Speaking to Al Jazeera, Ansari said the 3.4km-long dam, the fourth largest in the Middle East, is built on unstable grounds and its collapse is inevitable. “It is just a matter of time. It will be worse than throwing a nuclear bomb on Iraq,” Ansari said.”

Text: Mosul Dam collapse ‘will be worse than a nuclear bomb’, Al Jazeera.

Image: Thomas Hart Benton, Flood Disaster, 1951

Unknown Fields

“The Unknown Fields Division is a nomadic design research studio that ventures out on expeditions to the ends of the earth to bear witness to alternative worlds, alien landscapes, industrial ecologies and precarious wilderness. These distant landscapes – the iconic and the ignored, the excavated, irradiated and the pristine, are embedded in global systems that connect them in surprising and complicated ways to our everyday lives. In such a landscape of interwoven narratives, the studio uses film and animation to chronicle this network of hidden stories and re-imagine the complex and contradictory realities of the present as a site of strange and extraordinary futures. Here we are both visionaries and reporters, part documentarians and part science fiction soothsayers as the otherworldly sites we encounter afford us a distanced viewpoint from which to survey the consequences of emerging environmental and technological scenarios.Previous expeditions include; The Texaco oil fields of the Ecuadorian Amazon; the Galapagos Islands; Area 51 and other US military outposts; A Container Ship across the South China Sea; Madagascar’s ‘wild west’ sapphire pits, The frozen Arctic sea ice, far north Alaska; The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, Ukraine; Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, the gold fields of the Western Australian outback and Rare earth mining in Bayan Obo, Inner Mongolia.”

Video & text: Unknown Fields.

A Community in the Parking Lot

Long Term Parking from The New York Times – Video on Vimeo.

 

“Taking a back-road shortcut to catch a flight from Los Angeles two years ago, I passed an obscure airline employee parking lot — and was surprised to see over 70 motor homes. It looked like there was an entire community planted right there in the parking lot of the airport. I wondered, who lived there — and why? I learned that this community was an employee parking lot turned motor-home park made up of pilots, flight attendants and mechanics. And I became fascinated by why and how the residents — people who may have flown us across the country, or walked us through emergency landing procedures — came to inhabit such an unusual place…”

Video & text: Lance Oppenheim, The New York Times.

Fall of Empire

 

14483075050_a09581cf11_b

“The fall of Empire, gentlemen, is a massive thing, however, and not easily fought. It is dictated by a rising bureaucracy, a receding initiative, a freezing of caste, a damming of curiosity—a hundred other factors. It has been going on, as I have said, for centuries, and it is too majestic and massive a movement to stop.” – Isaac Asimov, Foundation.

Pic: Great Fire of London, artist unknown.