Waste man­age­ment

Eve An­drée Laramée

Pasatiempo - - ADVERTISEMENT - Michael Abatemarco

New Mex­ico’s Waste Iso­la­tion Pi­lot Plant (WIPP) is poised to re­open, pos­si­bly by year’s end, and plans are un­der­way to ac­cept more t han si x tons of plu­to­nium from the Sa­van­nah River Site in South Carolina, as re­ported in The Santa Fe New Mex­i­can (“Chang­ing nu­clear land­scape al­ters WIPP’s role,” April 10). With that news come fresh con­cerns. WIPP, lo­cated out­side of Carls­bad, was shut down in 2014 af­ter a leak con­tam­i­nated t he at­mos­phere on t he sur­face of t he ge­o­log­i­cal repos­i­tory that housed the waste. “What’s so fas­ci­nat­ing — and hor­ri­fy­ing, at the same time — about the leak is that the rea­son why it oc­curred is that the type of or­ganic kitty lit­ter they used as an ab­sorbent caused a chem­i­cal re­ac­tion that blew open the bar­rels,” artist and ed­u­ca­tor Eve An­drée Laramée told Pasatiempo. “When we think about the role of hu­man er­ror and how one lit­tle thing like choos­ing or­ganic-based kitty lit­ter rather than clay-based kitty lit­ter could cause this re­lease of plu­to­nium through­out the site and the at­mos­phere, I think that we have to rec­og­nize that ac­ci­dents are not the ex­cep­tions to the rule. They’re in­evitabil­i­ties.”

Laramée, pro­fes­sor and chair of the art and art his­tory de­part­ment at New York’s Pace Univer­sity and di­rec­tor of Pace’s Dyson Col­lege Cen­ter for the Arts, So­ci­ety and Ecol­ogy, has made the na­tion’s atomic legacy the fo­cus of her artis­tic prac­tice. “I got out of grad school in May of 1980. Within a cou­ple of months I packed every­thing up from Cal­i­for­nia and drove out to New Mex­ico, think­ing I’d end up in Santa Fe, but I ended up in Albuquerque,” she said. Soon af­ter ar­riv­ing in New Mex­ico, where she now re­sides part­time, she came across a news re­port on the Church Rock ura­nium mill spill that oc­curred on pri­vate land north of Gallup and bor­dered by Navajo Na­tion Tribal Trust lands. “The spill went ig­nored for months and months, and women who were herd­ing their sheep across the Río Puerco were get­ting sores on their legs that wouldn’t heal, which were ra­di­a­tion burns,”

Peo­ple some­times think of our arid lands as waste­lands. There’s the hu­man ne­glect fac­tor — that cer­tain pop­u­la­tions or de­mo­graph­ics are marginal­ized — then there’s the ge­o­graphic as­pect of it. Peo­ple see the West as filled with empty spa­ces, and [that] the only thing they’re good for is to mine. — Eve An­drée Laramée

Laramée said. “The United Nu­clear Cor­po­ra­tion knew what was go­ing on for like 16 months and they did noth­ing. They just let th­ese ra­dioac­tive tail­ings spill into the Río Puerco. The next gen­er­a­tion of ba­bies were born with birth de­fects and, later, can­cer clus­ters. Read­ing this, I was think­ing to my­self, ‘This is in­tol­er­a­ble.’ I’ve al­ways been in­vested in poet­ics and beauty in my work, but this event turned me in a di­rec­tion where I wanted my work to have some kind of so­cial im­pact and to be able to com­ment on so­ciopo­lit­i­cal is­sues.”

Since her first atomic legacy-in­spired art in­stal­la­tion in 1982, Cap­il­lary Ac­tion, Laramée has ex­plored the ef­fects of ra­dioac­tive waste on the en­vi­ron­ment and on hu­man pop­u­la­tions, in­clud­ing its role in con­gen­i­tal dis­or­ders and ab­nor­mal­i­ties such as mi­croen­cephaly which she ex­plored in the ex­hibit The Brain: Sci­ence,

Art, Con­ver­gence at the Dae­jeon Mu­seum of Art and the Na­tional Sci­ence Mu­seum in Dae­jeon, Korea, in 2014. “When I was an un­der­grad­u­ate stu­dent, I started out as a bi­ol­ogy ma­jor, and I was very in­ter­ested in the his­tory of sci­ence. It wasn’t un­til my ju­nior year that I switched my ma­jor to art. But I’ve al­ways had an in­ter­est in sci­ence and ap­ti­tude, and it con­tin­ues to this day.” The Dae­jon ex­hibit con­tained three sin­gle-chan­nel videos that ref­er­ence the ef­fects of ra­di­a­tion on the hu­man brain, ecosys­tems, and en­vi­ron­ments. “There is a cor­re­la­tion be­tween how we think about ra­dioac­tive ma­te­ri­als and how we be­have that ef­fects fu­ture gen­er­a­tions,” she wrote in a pa­per pre­sented at the Dae­jon Mu­seum of Art in 2015 and pub­lished in the monthly jour­nal Evening Will Come. “The ex­plo­sive atomic at­tack on Ja­pan in 1945 has given way to an im­plo­sive global eco­log­i­cal war be­yond na­tional ter­ri­to­ries: con­tam­i­nat­ing wa­ter, pol­lut­ing land, in­fil­trat­ing the air — and the cells of bod­ies. We are still en­gaged in nu­clear war through the use of de­pleted ura­nium weapons in Iraq, and the on­go­ing de­vel­op­ment of new strate­gic nu­clear weapons. Nu­clear power ac­ci­dents at the Fukushima Dai­ichi plant, Ch­er­nobyl, and Three Mile Is­land com­pound this legacy. The byprod­uct of nu­clear power is en­ergy; the prod­uct is ra­dioac­tive waste.”

Her 2009 project Half­way to In­vis­i­ble, a com­mis­sion by Emory Univer­sity Cen­ter for Cre­ativ­ity, deals with the bi­o­log­i­cal im­pact of ura­nium min­ing in the South­west. The ex­hibit com­bined in­ter­ac­tive sculp­ture, video, documentary photos, and an archive of sci­en­tific re­search pa­pers. The ti­tle of the show has sev­eral ref­er­ences, in­clud­ing the fact that ra­di­a­tion is in­vis­i­ble, the half-life of ra­dioac­tive de­cay, and the se­crecy sur­round­ing is­sues of nu­clear en­ergy and con­tain­ment, par­tic­u­larly in the po­lit­i­cal sphere. When Laramée first be­gan ex­plor­ing our nu­clear his­tory, she was struck by the fact that ev­ery­one was talk­ing about the Three Mile Is­land in­ci­dent, a par­tial re­ac­tor melt­down that oc­curred at the Three Mile Is­land Nu­clear Gen­er­at­ing Sta­tion in Penn­syl­va­nia in 1979, and that no one was talk­ing about the Church Rock ura­nium mill spill that oc­curred at around the same time. “Peo­ple some­times think of our arid lands as waste­lands,” she said. “There’s the hu­man ne­glect fac­tor — that cer­tain pop­u­la­tions or de­mo­graph­ics are marginal­ized — then there’s the ge­o­graphic as­pect of it. Peo­ple see the West as filled with empty spa­ces, and [that] the only thing they’re good for is to mine.”

Adding to this “ripe for min­ing” view of the South­west is its treat­ment as a dump­ing ground for nu­clear waste. “I’ve at­tended a lot of meet­ings and hear­ings and things like that, and one of the most re­veal­ing one was an an­nual con­fer­ence on ra­dioac­tive waste, and they wouldn’t use the word ‘dis­posal,’ ” she said. “They kept us­ing the word ‘dis­po­si­tion,’ which

I found to be re­ally fas­ci­nat­ing. That’s what they do with ra­dioac­tive waste: They move it from one place to an­other, but they have no so­lu­tion for it. It’s been 70 years and there is no vi­able plan for deep stor­age.”

An­other project, which Laramée hopes to get funded one day, is a pro­posal for an Eye­beam res­i­dency. Eye­beam, a non­profit art and tech­nol­ogy cen­ter lo­cated in Sun­set Park, Brook­lyn, of­fers res­i­den­cies to artists to fos­ter cre­ative col­lab­o­ra­tions in tech­nol­ogy. Her pro­posal is for the de­vel­op­ment of pro­to­types of por­ta­ble hy­dro de­con­tam­i­na­tion de­vices. “The idea was to en­able peo­ple to mon­i­tor their own land­scapes,” she said. “What I mean by that is to give them the tools to fil­ter their wa­ter them­selves if it’s con­tam­i­nated with tox­ins. The con­cept was sim­ple: to de­velop a se­ries of dif­fer­ent kinds of low- tech fil­ters t hat were packed with beads. There are dif­fer­ent types of clays you can make lit­tle ab­sorbent beads from: ben­tonite clay, ze­o­lite clay, and Na- 4 swelling mica. When they be­come hy­drated, the lam­i­nar as­pect of the molec­u­lar struc­ture of the clay swells be­cause it’s tak­ing on wa­ter mol­e­cules. What can hap­pen is that cer­tain el­e­ments like ra­dium get bound into the molec­u­lar struc­ture when the clay dries; sodium mol­e­cules get re­placed by ra­dium, in other words.” Laramée had been work­ing on the project with a ma­te­rial sci­en­tist at Penn­syl­va­nia State Univer­sity, but she couldn’t get fund­ing for the project. “The idea would be to make, say ,2,000 of th­ese, send them out — for ex­am­ple, to the Navajo reser­va­tion— and have them use th­ese fil­ters. They would come with a self­ad­dressed, stamped con­tainer, and they would be sent back to the lab­o­ra­tory for anal­y­sis to see what their ef­fi­cacy was. It’s still a very vi­able idea.”

The prob­lem we face as a na­tion and on a global level, ac­cord­ing to Laramée, is that the waste isn’t go­ing away, and dis­po­si­tion of nu­clear waste is prov­ing to be an in­tractable sit­u­a­tion. “We have to re­frame the is­sue,” she said. “We can’t just throw bar­rels in the ocean like we did in the 1960s. We know that much. I think we have to, as a na­tion, frame the prob­lem with more clar­ity and less de­nial. That’s one of the rea­sons why I like to keep th­ese is­sues in front of peo­ple: to keep the con­ver­sa­tions go­ing.”

Eve An­drée Laramée: left, Ter­ato­ge­n­e­sis, 2015, archival pig­ment dig­i­tal print (based on still from video of the same name); above,

Waste of Space 2, 2015, archival pig­ment dig­i­tal print (based on still from video of the same name); op­po­site page, “Dan­ger Ranger” Slouch­ing To­ward Yucca Moun­tain, 2011, pho­to­graph

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.