Monuments for the Interim Twenty-Four Thousand Years

Caltrops (after Brill), 2020. Ink on paper. Drawing by the author.

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Monuments for the Interim Twenty-Four Thousand Years

by Annie Simpson
Southern Cultures, Vol. 27, No. 2: Built/Unbuilt

“The Savannah River Site exists as a void and hulking monstrosity, its boundaries drawn and maintained as a toxic forever-ward of the state.”

The K Reactor at the Savannah River Site (SRS) sits on the eastern bank of the Savannah River, facing west over six miles of woods and swampland, which remain uninhabitable for humans. The reactor is now a tomb for thirteen tons of plutonium, the highly radioactive fuel—and deadliest substance known to us—that powers hydrogen bombs. The plutonium lies inside, encased in steel canisters behind seven-foot-thick concrete walls. The four other reactors on site have been cast in concrete from a void in their own images from the inside out, calling to mind the poetry in Rachel Whiteread’s 1993 public sculpture, House, a hulking, brutal mass cast from the interior of a Victorian home. The final step in the decommissioning process was to fill these nuclear reactors entirely with cement, transfixing them into impenetrable blocks.