Containment is a documentary directed by historian Peter Galison and filmmaker Robb Moss. It highlights the issues of nuclear waste containment and how we contend with the long durations that are needed to store it. The film parallels the recent nuclear power plant melt down at Fukushima, Japan with the issues surrounding the waste isolation pilot plant (WIPP) in the southwest United States where the department of energy is beginning to store tons of spent nuclear fuel.
To tell this story, the filmmakers commissioned Warning Office to create several cartographic animations addressing the spatial dependences surrounding nuclear waste. For instance, nuclear power plants are by necessity are located near population centers. However, this necessity also produces risk. Any power plant meltdown would put millions of people in danger and wipe out thousands of acres of farmland. Other maps showed how moving nuclear waste to storage facilities is dependent on the US highway system and therefore passes this material through numerous population centers.
Lastly, the radiation caused by the Fukushima meltdown exhibited randomness in its spatial pattern, and caused a great deal of uncertainty for scientists and public officials who were anticipating its ramifications. This randomness, and contingency on other atmospheric systems was demonstrated in several animations. These show how the contamination plume gets entangled with prevailing weather systems and how Tokyo ultimately escaped a far worse fate — had the wind been blowing another direction, the city would have been contaminated.
In each of these cases, W.O. was given the task of communicating the benefits and risks of nuclear power and the variety of scales at which it creates spatial adjacencies. As with all of my projects that are meant for popular consumption, I attempt to create graphics that were both legible and evocative. Working within the context of a documentary film, W.O. had to address numerous other productive constraints, including the dependency on voice over expert commentary. Given the seriousness of the topic, each map needed to communicate the full implications of what was being said while not graphically suggesting inescapable calamity.
Containment has been screened at numerous film festivals, was shown on PBS’s “Independent Eye” documentary series to over 6 million viewers. The animated maps W.O. produced for the film were also featured on HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.
Peter Galison (director)
Robb Moss (director)
Chyld King (editor)