As mentioned in a recent post, these are images of the Hanford Nuclear Production Complex in Washington state, USA. (Click to enlarge)
I am currently working on ceramics based on various landscapes. One of the sites I have been looking at are the ‘Diomede Islands‘, in the Bering Strait. The two islands, one ‘Big’ and the other ‘Little Diomede’ are known in Russia as the Gvozdev Islands. The are literally the closest point between the USA and Russia – the larger island being Russian, the smaller American, and a distance of 2.4 miles lies between them, but 21 hours in international time. In 1987 Lynne Cox travelled through space, time and political waters by swimming between the two islands.
The islands are/were also known by their indigenous names ‘Imaqliq’ and ‘Ignaluk’ – the indigenous people were moved off the islands, ‘relocated’ in Russia, never to return, while Little Diomede has a small Inupiat Inuit population. Big Diomede now seems to have only Russian military units of some sort. On Google Earth, altitude information normally shows up wherever you go, but over Big Diomede, there is no information, just an inexplicable straight edged ridge running along the eastern side of the island (this doesn’t correspond to photos of the islands). I have managed to find out contour information elsewhere though. The islands were ‘rediscovered’ (?) by a Danish navigator, in Russian service on the 16th August 1728, ‘St Diomede’s’ Day in Orthdox Russian Christianity. St. Diomedes is a ‘Holy Unmercenary‘ saint – amongst others are Damien and Cosmas who I posted last month about.
He was a physician, who when he was beheaded, caused those around his body to go blind. Only when the head was restored to the body was their sight in turn restored. The Holy Unmercanaries were saints who did not accept payment for good deeds, though I would have thought all saints should have been like that.
Around 9 miles south-east of the islands, lies a small islet called ‘Fairway Rock‘ a lump of granite providing nesting ground for various birds.
In 1966, the US Navy put a strontium powered RTG (Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator) on the island to power an oceanographic station which monitored detectors on the ocean floor looking for submarine traffic heading north. The RTG’s were seen as a useful way of using nuclear waste, and another two were added to the island. In 1995, all three were removed and taken to Hanford Nuclear Reservation for disposal.
RTG’s (if I’ve understood correctly…) convert heat released by the decay of radioactive material into electricity. Strontium, plutonium, polonium, americium… there are apparently thousands of RTG’s rotting away all over Russia.
“…discussing the issue of safe and secure use of isotope products in the “global”
sense, we must admit the obvious: this is an issue of urgency due to a number of reasons.One of them is the threat posed by different terrorist organizations in the world, disintegration
of the former Soviet territory, that led to the loss of control over sources, and in some cases to the loss
of sources as such. For example, unsanctioned opening of RITEGs by local populace in Kazakhstan
and Georgia to obtain non-ferrous metals. For some, the dose that they have been exposed to turned
out to be too high.” (Report by Minister of the Russian Federation for Atomic Energy Mr. A. Yu. Rumyantsev at the IAEA Conference on the Security of Radioactive Sources Vienna, Austria, March 11 2003)
Interestingly, there are 5 plutonium powered RTG’s on the moon, having been left their to power experimental equipment. There are also a number of ‘lost’ RTG’s including one which Apollo 13 was carrying when it reentered Earths atmosphere – it was lost somewhere near Fiji in the ‘Tonga Trench‘.
Tests have apparently shown that the plutonium therein has not escaped, and the cask containing the plutonium is expected to last around 870 years. The failed Russian Mars mission of 1996 brought back 2 RTG’s containing 200g of plutonium plummeting to earth, somewhere to the east of Chile.
The Hanford Nuclear Reservation, where the Fairway Rock RTG’s were taken for disposal, is part of the ‘Hanford Site‘, an enormous decommissioned nuclear production complex in Washington state (where apparently there is a leak which is getting worse). It was established as part of the Manhattan Project, and plutonium manufactured there was used in the first nuclear bomb, and the bomb which destroyed Nagasaki. Looking at the site on Google Earth is quite unnerving. I will put another post up of some images later.
Very close to the Hanford Site, is Hanford Reach National Monument, a 195,000 acre, untouched since 1943, (when the nuclear site was built) kind of reservation park. The site was, unsurprisingly, once a hunting ground for Native Americans. There are a number of rare, threatened or endangered species of animals and plants there, including elk and Chinook Salmon, which spawn in the Columbia River there.
The Diomede Islands, separated by a couple of miles, but 21 hours and conflicting ideologies. The Hanford Site and the Hanford Reach National Monument, separated by the Columbia River and conflicting approaches to the management and engagement of the environments we choose to shape. I’d be interested to know if the plant and animal life on one side of the river is able to inhabit the other side, and vice versa – whether there is some kind of microbial version of Lynne Cox.