Hadean Transport

Greenpeace has released these images of a train carrying nuclear waste through Valognes, France. Shot with infrared film, the photos show a demonic red glow coming from inside the bellies of the railcars.

[Images: Via National Geographic].

“The train is hauling a so-called CASTOR convoy,” National Geographic explains, “named after the type of container carried: Cask for Storage and Transport Of Radioactive material. These trademarked casks have been used since 1995 to transport nuclear waste from German power plants to France for reprocessing, then back to Germany for storage.”

I’m reminded of a short video shown last week at the Landscape Futures Super-Workshop here in Los Angeles.

Produced by Smudge Studio/Friends of the Pleistocene, the film shows us a flatbed truck carrying transuranic nuclear waste along a desert highway. As Smudge write, “Our brief passing of this truck was a momentary point of contact with this waste, bound for deep time.” Filmed in sepia-toned Super-8, the 35-second film has a timeless and dramatic surreality, verging on postapocalyptic.

I should add, briefly, that the name of the train seen in the first three images—a CASTOR convoy—lends all of this a nicely symbolic overtone. In Roman mythology, Castor and Pollux were twin brothers; Castor was mortal, Pollux immortal, and it should come as no surprise to learn that Castor is eventually killed.

However, in one version of the story, “Castor’s spirit went to Hades [Hell], the place of the dead, because he was a human. Pollux, who was a god, was so devastated at being separated from his brother that he offered to share his immortality with Castor or to give it up so that he could join his brother in Hades.” I mention this otherwise superficial overlap because Smudge’s notion that nuclear waste is on its way to being entombed in “deep time,” far below ground, takes on explicitly Hadean resonance when put into the context of something called a CASTOR train.

(Related on BLDGBLOG: One Million Years of Isolation: An Interview with Abraham Van Luik and Fossil Reactors).

12 thoughts on “Hadean Transport”

  1. Er… that's a false-color image. That "hellish red" could have just as easily been scaled a cool blue. Without a scale to tell what the relative temperatures are, that makes these photos an exercise in scaring people without information.

  2. As the Nat'l Geographic article points out, "'High-level waste is in fact hot,' said nuclear energy and proliferation expert Matthew Bunn. 'It doesn’t mean anything in particular in terms of how dangerous it is.'" So these images show temperature, not radioactivity.

    Having said that, though, putting these images on BLDGBLOG wasn't an attempt to promote irrational fear of the nuclear industry, as yoshi suggests (as if such wariness is somehow unjustified); instead I put these here out of ongoing personal interest in the extraordinary, often radioactive, power of geology, something I've explored on this blog since the very beginning.

    Otherworldly infrared images featuring nuclear-waste carrying trains thus seem both topically relevant and, to me, visually remarkable.

  3. Oh, I don't think anyone believes you're deliberately scaremongering, Geoff. Just being seduced by Greenpeace's deliberate scaremongering. It's what they do.

  4. In any case the "demonic red glow" is enveloped by an "ecological green-belt", so it's all good, right?

    @Leonard, I laughed out loud.

  5. Your Castor & Pollux reference is quite entertaining, yet does not quite catch the whole picture:

    The CASTOR container is simply meant for transporting the nuclear waste ("CAsk for Storage and Transport Of Radioactive material"). The POLLUX container (sorry only in german: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pollux_%28Kerntechnik%29) is meant for the long time storage of nuclear waste. So your comment about the mortal castor and the immortal pollux is quite correct – the rest not so much 😉 Castor is simply meant for transportation, in Pollux (containers) the nuclear waste will remain forever.

  6. When I used to work in north London, the nuclear waste trains (from Dungeoness nuclear power station) used to wend their way through Hackney, Camden, Kentish Town etc on the North London Line (all Labour-voting constituencies, no conspiracy theory there), and coincidentally, just past my window.
    No, we couldn't feel the demonic heat of radioactivity – nor did we run screaming with our heads on fire – but it was noticeable that while we would not even feel a rumble when a passenger train went past, but the nuclear freight was different. Our desks used to bounce up and down due to the massive weight that the freight train contains. I don't recall other freight trains doing that.
    That makes me wonder – what exactly IS the nuclear waste? Obviously not just dirty rags and used overalls etc – presumably it is spent Uranium rods etc (one of the heaviest elements known…). Seems a little irresponsible really to transport that through the centre of populated areas…

  7. Since this topic seems a little blurry, you might be interested in some facts (from germany).

    First about the heat:
    Years ago, you could have thrown eggs at the castor cans which by then were not covered. Since these cans are about 400°C in the core, the eggs would have immediately fried. Later they covered the castors with another shell (that is seen in your photos).

    Then about the final destination:
    Even in Germany it is widely believed that there is an underground storage for castors. Actually the only thing done under ground is exploration in order to find a final storage in former salt mines. All castors are so far (and since the salt mines turned out to be insecure) – will still be over ground. In detail they are stored in a faceless concrete building in the centre of Germany 2km from Gorleben.

    In their press releases, the atom lobby uses the words "salt mine", "castor", "temporary storage" and "final storage" in a blurry kind of causality. So everybody thinks they have the castors in the cave that is called "temporary storage" and will be called "final storage" once they would find out it's good enough for eternity. So this might be the reason for the common belief that castors go straight to some dark hell beneath our feet while they are standing right beneath our cities, not digged at all.

    And finally about the content:
    Nuclear waste from german nuclear power plants (used uranium) is brought to france to get reprocesses what is leftover (heavy metal) goes back to gorleben. One castor weights 117t and costs 1,5 mil. euro.

    For some of you this might sound like conspirancy but there is not much like that in germany. if any of you speaks german, I recommend the following article in (the rather conservative) newspaper "Zeit": http://www.zeit.de/2003/48/Gorleben which I paraphrased.

  8. I witnessed a far less radioactive yet radiating train shipment once in La Louvière, Belgium. This is the heart of the country's steel making industry and the train contained large ingots of still fresh from the mill. So fresh they were still very hot.

    It was surreal approaching the train that otherwise looked to be a normal shipment of steel. The eyes saw nothing but the skin could feel the awesome intensity of the contained energy dissipating into the air.

  9. This post is slightly reminiscent of the relocation of WTC rubble on barges heading to Fresh Kills Landfill in late 2001. America's twin towers, still smoldering hot with steel and organic matter (human remains), brought on barges silently to the landfill-turned-grave.

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