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for people who care about the West

Art and the atomic age

Radioactive disposal sites and other residuals of the bomb era.


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.