Singularly Assured Destruction

S.A.D. and PocketGeiger
S.A.D. and PocketGeiger

'Singularly Assured Destruction, 1870-2013: A laboratory for measuring the variable risk perception of radioactivity' is an outcome of research into the perception of nuclear risk. The variance in how radiation is perceived is a key issue raised in the Submarine Dismantling Project Advisory Group, where nuclear experts and community stakeholders advise the MOD on the process of dismantling nuclear submarines. The laboratory explores these discrepancies of risk perception whilst avoiding the language and aesthetics of both technology and protest.

The laboratory features Ele Carpenter's collection of Uranium glass, lit with Ultra Violet light whilst its radioactive emissions are measured with a Geiger counter. Each measurement will be logged as an index of two similar measurements in the world, revealing the variance of risk perception. For example, very roughly: one antique uranium wine glass = the background radiation of a brick or concrete building for a year = being just inside the 10mile exclusion zone of the 3 Mile Island Accident.

Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) is a cold war military doctrine where the use of nuclear weapons in a conflict ensures annihilation of both attacker and defender. Although we no longer have a cold war fear of MAD, and the political urgency to disarm has dissipated, we live in a nuclear age without solutions for disposing of nuclear waste. The possession of nuclear weapons and nuclear energy puts a community in a state of singularly assured destruction (SAD) through its own local risk factors. The accidents at Chernobyl and Fukushima have caused self-harm to local populations as well as downwind nations. In response to the Fukushima reactor meltdown Japanese iPhone Geiger counters now enable communities to collectively measure, map and monitor changing radiation levels in their environment.

The laboratory expands the concept of the nuclear age from the 20th Century to include 19th Century alchemy and 21st Century nuclear safety, as well as the inter-generational responsibility of storing nuclear waste for hundreds of thousands of years. Uranium Dioxide (uranium salts) has been used to colour glass since the early 19th Century. The earliest glass in this collection could date from about 1870. For nuclear advisors it has been an example of safe radiation levels, whilst others are alarmed by its radioactive content (Skelcher, 2002). Although production ceased during the cold war, today the glassware is commonly available in charity shops and antique centers.

The lab was featured in an exhibition of research projects at Goldsmiths College:
Goldsmiths Making A Difference: February 6-12th, 2013
St James’ Church, St James, Lewisham Way, SE14 6NW