Tunnel leftovers

Last week at the Stedelijk I stumbled upon this super pretty work by Witho Worms. From 2006 to 2011 he photographed coal mining heaps in Germany, France, Belgium, Wales and Poland. The title ‘Cette Montagne, c’est Moi’ refers to the miners who spent much time of their lives underground excavating these heaps. The mountains are basically the left over product of the tunnels dug by the mine workers. Pretty stunning, that the left over product of the mining industry became its own kind of artificial nature..

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Witho Worms, Cette Montagne, C’est Moi (Blaenavon I, Wales)

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Witho Worms, Cette Montagne, C’est Moi (Bouffioulx, Belgium)

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Witho Worms, Cette Montagne, C’est Moi (Blegny, Belgium)

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Witho Worms, Cette Montagne, C’est Moi (Bruay LaBuissiere II, France)

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Witho Worms, Cette Montagne, C’est Moi (Peronnes, Belgium)

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Witho Worms, Cette Montagne, C’est Moi (Haillicourt, France)

Source: witho.nlStedelijk Museum Amsterdam

Posted on February 11, 2015

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Nuclear Caves

Decay is the only way through which radioactive waste can become harmless. For high-level wastes this process of decay can take hundreds and thousands of years. At the moment most of the harmful waste products are stored at ground level, but this is only a temporary solution. The wastes will be exposed to too many threats; future threats we don’t even know about.

What is a safe place for those wastes to be stored for, let’s say, eternity? An option: burying it deep underground. Deep geologic disposal has been studied for several decades. Many repository sites are testing and waiting for approval, some are already under construction.

A place that is being tested for potential use as a permanent nuclear waste storage is the Gorleben salt dome in Germany. Its research started back in the seventies. Many holes are drilled and samples are taken – a total length of seven kilometres of roads are carved in the salt with another eleven kilometres of research cores taken from the rocks. The base should ultimately be located at a depth of 3300 m.

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The Gorleben exploration mine was made accessible via two shafts with a length of 933 metres and 840 metres. Source: Bundesamt für Strahlenschutz

Erkundungsbergwerk Gorleben

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Research at the Gorleben salt mines. Photo credit: Spiegel Online

The reason why Gorleben got ‘nominated’ as a possible location is because the salt would absorb the heat of the nuclear waste containers. But as there are pro’s there are cons: some of the cores taken at the site have revealed moisture which could possibly cause the tunnels to flood. It will take at least 10 more years to receive a yes or a no on the suitability of the Gorleben mines.

Many other countries have planned similar permanent underground storages for nuclear waste.

The first permanent repository for nuclear fuel disposal that received a ‘go’ is situated at Olkiluoto in Finland, about 300km from Helsinki. Its research and work started back in the 1970s already, finalisation is expected for the 2100s only – meaning that no person currently working on the facility will live to see it completed.

Also the underground facility in Forsmark, Sweden, received its ‘go’. In 2013 the construction of the huge system of underground tunnels started and is planned to start operating by 2070. Until it is time for the big move, Sweden’s spent nuclear fuel is temporarily stored in rock faults in cold water pools while waiting for its permanent solution.

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“If architecture is about designing spaces for human habitation, this is practically its opposite.” (Quote from Steve Rose, The Guardian)

Forsmark is using the KBS-3 method, a three-layer protection protocol. Its nuclear fuel is sealed in thick copper canisters at first, then it is buffered by a bentonite clay and Sweden’s very own age old natural rock serving as its third protection layer, ensuring that nothing will ever escape nor enter. When ready, the canisters will be stored away in Forsmark’s 65km (!) long tunnel system 500 metres below ground. At minus 500m ground water movement is so slow that the wastes couldn’t affect life at the surface.

After the canisters are transported to their new underground location the tunnels will be backfilled with blocks of bentonite and every single tunnel will be sealed off with a concrete plug. Once all the excavated tunnels have been backfilled up to ground level, the fuel will not require further handling, maintenance or surveillance. Stored away forever, as if nothing ever happened.

Sources: The Guardian, SKB, Spiegel

Posted on February 5, 2015

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“The Rat Tribe”

Hundreds of thousands, or probably even over a million Chinese people live underground of Beijing. The rent for an apartment underneath the rapidly growing city is much lower than for the ones above ground. Most of the residents are young immigrants hoping to make it in the big city, dreaming of a bright future.

The underground living spaces came to existence in the nineties, when bomb shelters were converted into basements. But since recently safety and hygiene regulations are being tightened by housing corporations and in most cases living underground became now illegal.

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Photo credit: Sim Chi Yin

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Floor plan of an underground residence in East Beijing

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Photo credit: Sim Chi Yin

Al Jazeera America published many beautiful personal stories from its residents, read all of them here.

Posted on January 29, 2015

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Prison Escape Afghanistan

Kandahar, Afghanistan, 25 April 2011: for about five months Taliban insurgents dug a 320 meter long tunnel to escape 486 inmates from the Saraposa prison. The militants began digging from a house not too far from the prison, bypassing police checkpoints, watch towers and concrete barriers. After the diggers finally broke through the cement floor of the prison cell, it took 4.5 hours ferrying away all the prisoners.

Afghanistan Kandahar Prison Escape

The opening was about 1 diameter wide and right after the opening it dropped down for about 1.5 meters and then turned into the direction of the house it originated. Kandahar remains relatively warm during winter so the ground was not frozen during the digging.

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General Ghulam Dastgir, the governor in charge of the Kandahar jail, next to the escape tunnel, 2011. Source: REUTERS/Ahmad Nadeem

Posted on January 29, 2015

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Escaping borders

After Israel and Egypt closed borders with Gaza, many tunnels were dug to smuggle food, drugs, building supplies, people and animals. The Gaza tunnels are up to 15 meters deep and 800 meters long and are mainly dug by individuals, starting from basements of houses. Along the years over a 1000 tunnels were dug as an attempt to escape the political restrictions.

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An underground tunnel linking the southern Gaza Strip to Egypt, 2010. Source: www.noralestermurad.com

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Egyptian boys show off rabbits given to them by a Palestinian man, 2010. Source: Said Khatib/AFP/Getty Images

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A tunnel is being filled-in by the Palestinian police (hurts me when I see this). Source: Khatib/AFP/Getty Images

Posted on January 29, 2015

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Escape is legal in The Netherlands

On the 21st of February The 35 year old women, Tottie Kiel, escaped via a tunnel out of the women’s prison in Breda, The Netherlands. Below the kitchen floor there was a basement, in which there was a hatchway. There she started digging her tunnel with a spoon. Every night she dug for a couple of hours, hiding the soil underneath the kitchen floor.

According Tottie Kiel herself she didn’t belong in prison, and thus knew from the beginning on she was going to escape. The tunnel was 2 meters deep and she dug mostly 10 centimeters a night or even a little more after she got used to the heavy physical work. Halfway the tunnel she had to crawl through a space too narrow, she stopped eating to loose 5 tot 6 kilo’s till she was able to pass it to continue her escape. After a couple of months of digging herself out of the Koepelgevangenis, Kiel finally reaches the street in the middle of the night.

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Screen grab from escape simulation by Omroep Brabant

The best news: law and prison expert Professor Van Kanthout explained that escaping is not illegal in The Netherlands as long as no violence is used; the government is the one held responsible for someone’s escape.

Posted on January 18, 2015

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