The Power of Ruins

Our own Morgan Meis in The Smart Set:

ScreenHunter_03 Apr. 01 20.10 “Will it make a beautiful ruin?” That was the question Basil Spence asked about the nuclear power station he was designing in Trawsfynydd, Wales. This was back in the 1960s, but it was forward looking. Spence, an architect (he designed the famous Coventry Cathedral in England), was aware of one simple fact: Nuclear power plants are functional for a relatively short period of time before they are put out of commission and replaced by newer, safer designs and technology. The abandoned plant is filled with radioactivity that makes it unusable for anything for a long time. A cathedral is designed with the idea that it should stand, and function, for a very long time — perhaps beyond time. A nuclear power plant is designed with the knowledge that it must become a ruin, and rather quickly. It is born to die, and then to sit as a corpse, a testimony to the strange and unsettling function it once had.

The human comfort level with nuclear energy has, arguably, increased in the last few decades. But radiation will always be scary. Perhaps our fear is in inverse proportion to our ability to feel or understand the effects of radiation with any immediacy. It is the silence of radiation that is troubling, the invisibility. It is disturbing to think that you could have received a lethal dose of radiation and never know until it is too late, until the body has been corrupted from the inside out. The fear in Japan right now, as the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant continues, is one driven by not-knowing, by the impossibility of knowing exactly what is going on. This ignorance mingles with the realization that silent powers are reshaping the landscape. A nuclear ruin is being born.

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