In 2011 I was an artist in residence in this small town of about 25000 people. During my residency, I came across a wildlife management area, about 13 miles west of Paducah. This state-managed natural refuge attracts fishing, hunting, and other outdoor enthusiast. Following my interest in human "management" of ecologies, I started making images in this green zone and soon understood it to be much more than a wildlife refuge. This six and half thousand acre land forms a green muffler, a buffer space, around the largest nuclear enrichment plant in the United States. To understand the complex significance of this land I had to look back in the history of Paducah.
Paducah came on the map in early 1800s as the largest inland port in the US. In 1950s it became the "atomic city," as the uranium enrichment plant was set up 16 miles west of town. Radioactive contaminants were detected in the drinking water of the area residents in late 1980s. This nuclear history unfolds in the celebratory murals on the flood-walls of the Paducah riverfront. The murals, painted in 1996, present an amnestic view, selectively remembering, celebrating, and forgetting the past.
The West Kentucky Wildlife Management Area is a vast green space that attracts us with its lush vegetation, calm ponds, and subtle creeks with clear waters. Initially you are enamored with its natural serenity. But just as you enter the formal boundary of the West Kentucky WMA you come across the first warning sign. This is one of the several signs that hint an entirely different purpose and use of land that lies in the heart of this green space. As you move tangentially to the high security zone in the center, you come across more signs. There are groundwater testing wells, that monitor the radiation levels underground, and an air quality monitoring station that is supposed to trigger the sirens. Here the sprit of the land, its genius loci, presents its cycles of death and rejuvenation. This is seen most vividly through the old and new definitions of boundaries that you can not cross. The new "no trespassing" signs, in the bright yellow pride defend the frontiers, while old signs are overcome by natural forces. At the end, you come to a concrete bolder blocking the road. This is where the Google vehicle stops. This is the site where first nuclear contamination was detected. The lush vegetation hides everything beyond the roadblock, inviting and intimidating at the same time.
Welcome Warning, WMA, Kentucky
Creek with VOCs, PCBs, Tc-99, Uranium, Thorium, Plutonium, Neptunium, WMA, Kentucky
Creek with VOCs, PCBs, Tc-99, Uranium, Thorium, Plutonium, Neptunium, PGDP Kentucky (Looking West)
Air Monitoring Station, WMA, Kentucky
New Order, WMA, Kentucky
Old Order, WMA, Kentucky
Monitoring Nuclear Contamination In Groundwater, WMA, Kentucky
Contamination Notice, WMA, Kentucky
Roadblock, Nuclear Contamination Site, WMA, Kentucky
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SPEakOp (SPE Opinion) is a series of think-pieces.