We all know that nuclear waste management is a very complicated issue from a technical point of view, as well as from a public policy perspective. The Netherlands’ COVRA have managed to put an artistic twist on their nuclear waste management program. Their Habog facility will store high level nuclear waste on an interim basis. As part of an ongoing communications plan, they have transformed the facility into a statement, which has helped to engage the public better on the topics of safety and radioactive waste management.
Habog features a bright orange exterior and prominently displays of Albert Einstein’s equation, E=mc2, and Max Planck’s E=hv. Designed to last for up to 300 years, it contains the waste resulting from the reprocessing of all the nuclear fuel ever removed from the Netherlands’ Borsselle and Dodewaard nuclear power stations after electricity generation. The facility’s theme of gaining value from decay was developed by the artist William Verstraeten.
The waste inside Habog is planned to remain there for 100 years, during which time its radioactivity will decrease through decay. This process is symbolised by the colour of the
building’s exterior, which is to be repainted every 20 years in lighter and lighter shades of orange until reaching white. The orange colour was chosen in part because it is the national colour of the Netherlands, but mainly because it is halfway between red and green, that usually symbolise danger and safety. The theme of decay is extended to the inside of the facility, where four large pictures hang. They all feature the same local natural scene, but occur in a sequence in which base colours are removed one by one. The final two-tone image is printed on gold leaf, to introduce the idea that the waste has more value
after its radioactivity has decayed.
The visual appeal of the building and its nature has led to a doubling of visitors each year to the Habog site. After the success of Habog, COVRA has continued to use its facilities as
statements. It has now begun to store museum artifacts in unused space within a low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste storage facility. A representative from COVRA said that the long timescales involved in managing nuclear waste can be hard for people to understand, and this contrasts with their easy understanding of some similar timescales involved in preserving great works of art.
This blog post was first published by Hardy Stevenson and Associates Limited in 2008.