On September 18, 2020, the art exhibition Splitting the Atomopened at the Contemporary Art Centre and the Energy and Technology Museum in Vilnius, Lithuania. The exhibition, featuring 30 artists, was initiated by the member of the Atomic Heritage team Egle Rindzeviciute and curated by Virginija Januskeviciūte (Contemporary Art Centre) and Ele Carpenter (Goldsmiths, University of London, leader of the Nuclear Culture Research Group). The exhibition was initially scheduled to start at the same time as the final conference of the Atomic Heritage project, but due to the Covid pandemic the conference was finally rescheduled to take place in June 2021.
The essay ‘Splitting the Atom, Creating Trust’ by the Atomic Heritage team members Tatiana Kasperski, Egle Rindzeviciute and Andrei Stsiapanau, together with Paul Josephson was commissioned as part of the exhibition and published in collaboration with Echogonewrong.com and Artnews.lt.
On the 14th of May, 2020, a webinar (Re)Placing Chernobyl zoomed in on the popular HBO miniseries “Chernobyl” (2019) to explore the politics of aesthetics, the power of TV mediation of scientific expertise and the wide-ranging impacts of this cultural representation of the disaster. In the context of the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic, questions of public trust in science and the role of scientific experts in governance have returned to the forefront. The discussion roundtable gathered prominent scholars, artists and cultural producers to unpack the complexities that emerged in process of staging the Chernobyl disaster in the twenty first century.
(Re)Placing Chernobyl was meant to take place live, at the University College London. It was organised in partnership with the UCL Fringe Centre, the UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies, the Lithuanian Culture Institute, the Lithuanian Embassy in the United Kingdom, Go Vilnius, the contemporary art magazine This Is Tomorrow and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). The online discussion attracted 288 unique viewers on Zoom and about 200 more viewed the webinar live on Youtube. The event was streamed live by the KTH Environmental Humanities Lab, the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden, and the MIT Program in Art, Culture and Technology, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, the USA. The speakers: Simon Evans, Head of the Chernobyl Shelter Fund at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), Michael N. Goddard, Reader in Film, Television and Moving Image at the University of Westminster, UK, Paul Josephson, Professor of History, Colby College, USA, Alena Ledeneva, Professor of Politics and Society, UCL, UK, Tatiana Kasperski, PhD in Politics and researcher at Pompeu Fabra University, Spain, Johan Renck, Film director, won the Emmy Award (2019) for his work on the mini-series “Chernobyl,” Vitalij Strigunkov, Visual artist, Lithuania, Simon Watson, Senior Lecturer in Robotics Systems, the University of Manchester, UK. Egle Rindzeviciute chaired the discussion.
On the 12th and 13th of March, Rindzeviciute visited several locations that are centrally important for the Lithuanian nuclear cultural heritage: the simulator of the RBMK reactor’s control panel in Visaginas and the information centre at the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant. The simulator, which is said to be the first of its kind in the Soviet Union, was designed and built in the late 1980s. Several generations of the RBMK reactor operators were trained on it. As Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant is being decommissioned, the simulator lost its original function. However, this fabulous monument of the Soviet technoscientific modernity is perfectly preserved in situ. Could the simulator serve as a key object for the planned Museum of Visaginas?
At the information centre, Rindzeviciute discussed the opportunities to develop international collaboration between nuclear archives. A wealth of documentation is being gathered and stored at the Ignalina NPP archive, which are in the safe hands of the dedicated team. However, the long term status of these documents is unclear: what will become of the archive once the nuclear power plant is fully decommissioned? It is important to preserve these unique documents for the future generations of historians of science and technology. The visit could not be completed without a delicious and wholesome lunch at the employees’ canteen (this was before the introduction of social distancing).
On the 12th of March, just before the EU countries began to shut down their borders in an attempt to stop the COVID-19 pandemic, Egle Rindzeviciute visited Visaginas City Council, Lithuania. In the meeting with the Mayor of Visaginas and his team, Rindzeviciute presented the findings from the research projects, the ongoing activities of the “Nuclear Cultural Heritage” network and discussed the opportunities to develop nuclear cultural heritage in Visaginas.
The Mayor’s office and members of community expressed a strong interest in industrial heritage as an asset for the future prosperity of this fascinating city and its diverse community. In the evening the same day, Rindzeviciute read a lecture on nuclear cultural heritage and discussed its future prospects with the representatives of the veteran community of the Ignalina nuclear power plant and gave an interview to the local television channel. The visit was facilitated by the expert guide and heritage developer Oksana Denisenko.
On 22 February 2020, one of the two reactors of the Fessenheim nuclear power plant in France was definitively stopped, and the second reactor is planned to be stopped on 30 June. Fessenheim was commissioned in 1977 and is currently the oldest nuclear power plant operating in France. The fate of Fessenheim has been widely discussed during the past decade and the decision to close the ageing reactors was announced already in 2012 by the then newly elected president Francois Hollande. However, the decision did not come into force before now, highlighting the sensibility of closing nuclear power plants in France, which is the world’s second largest nuclear power producer after the US. The approaching post-nuclear situation in the Fessenheim community is feared by many who are dependent on the dominant local employer, while others have since long awaited a closure of the plant.