Art meets technology in photos from The Nuclear Sublime

February 27, 2024, 9:30AMANS Nuclear Cafe

The Nuclear Sublime is a new large-format photobook that features fascinating and unusual photographs of the interiors of nuclear reactors and power plants across the United Kingdom.

Photographer Michael Collins, who is currently a visiting professor at the University of Suffolk, found the nuclear sites to be, among other things, “tranquil, beautiful,” according to an online gallery about the book featured in the Guardian. He says of his photo project, “Nuclear power is the incarnation of the sublime.”

Unprecedented access: For The Nuclear Sublime, which is published by RRB Photobooks, Collins was granted unprecedented access to Dounreay, Sellafield, Chapelcross, Winfrith, Dungeness, Trawsfynydd, Sizewell A and B, Wylfa, and Torness over the course of three years. The photographs capture seven decades of nuclear infrastructure, depicting, the publisher says, “the present state and future of Britain’s nuclear industry—usually hidden from public view.”

Color contrasts: Collins’s photographs are intensely interesting, both in their level of technological detail and in their artistic quality. One photo of a refueling cavity at Sizewell B contrasts the reactor’s uranium rods inside a bright blue pool of radiation-containing water with its stark, orange-hued surroundings. A photo of the vacuum vessel module in ITER’s Tokamak’s assembly pit shows a grouping of yellow-topped magnets lining the shiny silvery interior.

An image of the turbine hall at the shut-down Chapelcross nuclear plant shows how “each turbine and its pipework was painted a distinct colour to facilitate maintenance”—resulting in the maze of blue, yellow, green, orange, and brown pipes captured by Collins, an image he made with focus-stacking technology, he said.

Nuclear archaeology: Collins writes in The Nuclear Sublime, “My access to such a wide range of nuclear energy sites enabled me to photograph almost the entire archaeology of an industry.” His photos offer the public an excellent opportunity to explore British nuclear history while enjoying a rare mixture of artistic beauty and technological education.

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