Nuclear Information Centre


The rocks have encircled the waste has encircled the Earth.

Nic Pehkonen, Encircled, 2024 [granite, mudstone, halite, chalk, bentonite, jute string, A4 clipboard with information sheet (not shown). Dimensions approximately 35cm x 35cm (area), height variable].

Harnessing both kinetic and gravitational potential energy, the Nuclear Information Centre pendulum moves with apparent effortlessness across both deep and shallow time whilst simultaneously providing much-needed Anthropocenic spiritual guidance and tidy yes/no answers to the conundrum of safely managing the ever-growing global inventory of high-activity radioactive waste.

The long-term management of radioactive waste is a global issue for all nuclear states with geological disposal officially put forward as the best and safest solution for the most problematic high-level wastes. In addition to the natural barrier of the “host” rock, geological disposal also builds in engineered barriers, including bentonite clay as a backfill material with the whole facility designed to isolate and contain the waste deep underground over the hundreds of thousands of years it will take to reach nominally safe levels.

However, definitions of nuclearity (Hecht,2012), waste and safety could be seen as decidedly selective. We perhaps consciously, or unconsciously think of waste from a position as end users of the nuclear fuel cycle but the ongoing and enduring legacies of uranium mining, atomic testing and unplanned radiological releases are not so tidily managed or contained and will continue to slowly unfold over both human and geological timescales.

Three main rock types have been identified as geologically suitable for hosting a GDF. These are higher strength rocks such as granite, lower strength sedimentary rocks such as mudstone, and evapourites such as halite. Additionally, due to its strong moisture absorbing properties, bentonite clay has been identified as a potential buffer material for surrounding the deposited waste packages and slow down the movement of groundwater within a GDF. Water is the single most undesirable ingredient in the GDF mix as it can act as a conduit for hazardous radionuclides to potentially reach the surface. The rock takes on the role of the final barrier between the waste and the outside world.

As of 2024 no suitable site has been identified within the UK although the latest iteration of the GDF siting process has been ongoing since 2018.

The pendulum is roughly cast from bentonite in the proportions of a radioactive waste canister as it circles slowly  around the seemingly clocklike arrangement of rocks. When and where will it finally come to rest?

In this exhibit the pendulum is free-hanging so combines a relative stillness with the potential for movement, either through ambient forces or as a result of direct human intervention. Encircled invites you to take a moment to think about the globalness yet relative invisibility of radioactive waste, its creation and timescales associated with its disposal.

Information last updated: Fri 14 Jun 2024