Art and the atomic age

Radioactive disposal sites and other residuals of the bomb era.

  • Uranium disposal cells like these in Green River, Utah, are tombs in a sense: Like the Egyptian pyramids, they're intended to safeguard their contents into the future.

    Center for Land use Interpretation/Lighthawk
  • Uranium disposal cells in Rifle, Colorado.

    Center for Land use Interpretation/Lighthawk
  • "Gatekeeper" of Los Alamos, Dorothy McKibbin (left), with Dr. Robert Oppenheimer, credited with creating the atomic bomb.

    Los Alamos Historical Society / Center for Contemporary Arts, Santa Fe.
  • Los Alamos Main Gate

    Los Alamos Historical Society / Center for Contemporary Arts, Santa Fe.
  • Ed Grothus and the Black Hole military surplus store in 2004. Grothus sold items from the nuclear era and was called "Atomic Ed." He died in 2009.

    Center for Contemporary Arts, Santa Fe.
  • "Sedan Crater, Nevada Test Site, after 1972," 2012. Graphite and radioactive charcoal on paper, 22 x 30 inches.

    Nina Elder, courtesy Center for Contemporary Arts, Santa Fe.
  • "The Gadget (Trinity Test Site, July 15, 1945)," 2011. Graphite and radioactive charcoal on paper, 22 x 30 inches.

    Nina Elder, courtesy Center for Contemporary Arts, Santa Fe.
  • Obsessive artist, counter-culture icon, musician Tony Price (1937-2000), dedicated his life to creating "atomic art."

    Elliot McDowell / Center for Contemporary Arts, Santa Fe.
 

Uranium mine tailings litter the West in geometric mounds that range in size from a couple of acres to a half-mile long. After the mid-20th century mining boom, many processing mills sat idle for decades before their hazardous waste, which sometimes was used as fill in local sidewalks, roads, houses and schools, was removed to these disposal sites and sealed with rock and soil layers. The tombs may last only a few hundred years, far from the 4.5-billion year half-life of the tailings' primary radioactive element, U-238. The uranium was originally sought for bombs; now, surviving mines supply the nation's 65 nuclear power plants. An exhibit through Jan. 5, 2014, at Santa Fe's Center for Contemporary Arts displays artwork exploring the mineral's fraught history and impacts. These and seven other aerial views of disposal sites are the Los Angeles-based nonprofit Center for Land Use Interpretation's contribution to the show.