Belfast, Northern Ireland


This project seeks to explore the paradox between the nuclear industry and healthcare. It was found that the Sellafield Reprocessing Plant in Cumbria was pumping radioactive material into the Irish Sea to get rid of stockpiles of nuclear waste being generated by power plants across the United Kingdom and parts of Europe. “There is more radioactive plutonium in the sediments off the Sellafield plant in the Irish Sea than at the underwater Russian Novaya Zemlya nuclear weapons test site.” Reported by Greenpeace in June 1998. Greenpeace had been measuring radioactive contamination in sediments and seaweed along the British and Irish coasts.

Laboratories in Britain and Germany measured caesium levels of 1.2 and 2.3 million becquerels per kilogram of sediment. Plutonium analysis showed recorded levels of 35,554 becquerels per kilogram, well above safe levels. A tiny speck of plutonium inhaled is enough to trigger cancer in humans and animals as will as kill thousands of flora and fauna, the impact on the biosphere can be devastating.

The thinking at the time was that due to the heavier atomic weight of the waste it would sink safely to the seabed were the vast amount of water would cool and disseminate the radioactivity until it became non-radioactive. This hasn’t happened. The mile long pipe line that took this material to sea is no longer operational.

Strong ocean currents have carried this waste that was the responsibility of the United Kingdom to correctly dispose of until it was safe has now reached Norway, Iceland and the shores of Cumbria. Samples of salmon farmed in Scotland have tested positive for levels of technetium – 99 which should only be found in the core of nuclear reactors, highlighting a real concern over the design and containment of current reactor design.

The concept of a Nuclear Valley draws on the negative impact current healthcare architecture has on human mental health. Currently conditions for treatment take place in bland, isolating and clinical environments which provide little to no mental or physical support for patients. At least 50% of patients suffering from cancer report to their doctors that their mental health suffers from the intense chemo and radiotherapy programs they have been placed on with many not having the strength to undergo the full course prescribed. Patients frequently experience a process similar to grieving after diagnosis and during palliative or end-of-life care. There is evidence to support the existence of PTSD within both cancer survivors and cancer patients. This is a direct result of traumatic experiences associated with the disease, and because the potential for a fatal prognosis is high

Many patients lose the ability to be fully independent with 80% stating they need daily support. Others find that energy levels plummet and activities that were once a source of enjoyment are no longer possible. Cancer treatments can also cause depression and anxiety. A side effect of chemotherapy known as “chemo brain” can cause fatigue, depression, mental fog, and other forms of cognitive impairment. A report published by the NHS in 2017 found a link of increased mortality between patients with depression than those without. The independent reports analysed English and Scottish data finding a link between mental distress and cancer mortality, which remained even after other factors such as smoking were taken into account.

This project explores the thought experiment of a new human approach to cancer treatment. The construction of “Treatment Alters” in the environment allow for “guests” to explore the surroundings of the Nuclear Valley. Self-reflection and contemplation happen naturally through the exploration of the Alters and Spa complex. Humans instinctively know that spending time in nature is great for both the body and mind, but now a growing body of research suggests that it can benefit our mental health along with the known benefits of physical exercise.

The University of Exeter Medical School in England looked at the mental health data of 10,000 city dwellers and used mapping to track where they had lived over the past 18 years. The findings suggested that people living near urban green space reported less mental distress. Ecopsychology, which explores the relationship between human beings and the natural world is a base for building the strong foundations for cancer patients to be able to cope with any intense treatment.

Guests can explore nature while receiving low and targeted doses of radiation. Bringing nature into healthcare and combining new technology allows us to explore the boundaries of what treatment is.

 Does it need to be a bright artificial lit, white room?