Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Day 110: Odd Simulations


Barbara Kruger

Yesterday afternoon we toured the Atomic Testing Museum, the official museum for the Nevada Test Site. It claims to be an affiliate of the Smithsonian.

It was a complex and bad-mood inducing experience, but I am glad to have had the chance to experience it. I gained some facts and appreciate that there is some kind of presence for Nevada's nuclear history within Las Vegas city limits. The exhibitions were at times compelling, often biased, and full of historic details and memorabilia. One would have to work very hard and have a lot of energy and time to make it past the surface of the wall texts, touch screens and videos to gain a more nuanced view of America's nuclear history.

The most interactive experience of the museum is the atomic simulation room, more formally called the "Ground Zero Theatre". There, we experienced a simulated atomic bomb detonation. This consisted of listening to the countdown in total darkness, witnessing a bright flash of light and then feeling the "shock wave" arrive a few seconds later (a blast of air in our faces). This was coupled with an image of the smoke and fire rising into a mushroom cloud. I'm not entirely sure what the educational element of this experience is intended to be, but it was slightly horrifying as a mediated experience. I can't help but think that as long as American culture finds ways to make light, and spin its atomic history through "entertainment", the risks, choices, and consequences that were a bit part of our lived history are bound to repeat and manifest more deeply in the present and future.

Coming out of this experience it was hard to hear John McCain touting nuclear energy as "clean energy" last night (he wants 45 new reactors by 2030). I guess he hasn't been to the museum to read about Technetium-99, which will be around for 213,000 years and is considered a high-level waste. Perhaps he might rethink his choice if he knew that there is only a management plan in place to handle this waste for 300 years.

What happens after that is anybody's guess.

I guess he also doesn't know about Iodine-129, which will be around for 15, 700,000 and this one only has a management plan for next 100 years.

The accompanying text for this information (5 clicks down into a touch screen in one of the last rooms of the museum) reads,

"Currently, there is no designated site for long-term disposal of high-level waste in the United States. High-level waste will continue to require isolation for tens of thousands of years because of a very high percentage of high-level waste is made of unstable atoms."

I guess we'll stay tuned for the next 100 years and see what happens.

Today we tour the Nevada Test Site. I simply have no idea what this experience will be like, but feel as though it is somewhat inevitable that I find myself actually going. There has been a ramping up of momentum towards this moment for many months. Many books, articles, movies, conversations, research, and now travel, have lead up to this day's arrival. At a certain point, you just know so much that only the real thing is left and you just have to go yourself. I would say that I feel quite compelled to go and be there.


1 comment:

nc said...

I want so badly for John McCain NOT to win, that I'm willing to temporarily suspend my monoatheism just so I can pray to God that he doesn't win.