I have been to that place that you should never go.
Located 420 metres below the Earth’s surface, and accessible only by navigating through over five kilometres of tunnels, Onkalo is the world’s first deep geological nuclear waste repository. Hewn into bedrock at 61°14’08.02″N 21°28’58.69″E on Finland’s southwest coast, the facility is intended to isolate high-level radioactive material from people and Earth’s biosphere for the next 100,000 years. The nuclear barons refer to this as “final disposal”, although it is perhaps more accurately described asdeferral, since we have no way of being certain that Onkalo will remain effective for even a fraction of that timespan.
To enter Onkalo is therefore to venture into the far-future. My experience there prompted me to reflect upon the encounter between humanity and ecology, and to view its documentation as future cultural heritage. However, since radioactivity is a form of energy for which people have no sense for—you cannot see it, hear it, smell it, or feel it—I found myself taking two sideways glances. For this I picked up my camera to visualise nuclear harm, rather than merely continue to write about it. This impulse is to be expected, for as John O’Brian has stated: “Wherever nuclear events occur, photographers are present. They are there not only to record what happens, but also to assist in the production of whathappens.”
N.A.J. Taylor, ‘Nuclear deferral’, in Livia Monnet and Peter C. van Wyck (eds.), Toxic Immanence: Nuclear Legacies, Futures, and the Place of Twenty-First Century Nuclear Environmental Humanities, McGill-Queens University Press, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, 2019. [PDF available on request]