At the beginning of the 20th century, nuclear fission was discovered. Due to positive attitude towards nuclear energy in 1960-1970s, so called Atomic Age, lots of large scale nuclear power plants were constructed all over the world. New towns emerged nearby as extensions of existing cities or as completely new settlements – atomgrads. The latter is mainly the case in the Western part of the former Soviet Union and US.
Now it is a time when nuclear power plants of First Atomic Age are being closed due to the end of operation time, accidents or political decisions causing the uncertainty of atomgrads’ future development.
In addition to this, the decommissioning process, which involves dismantlement of the power plant at the very last phase, takes away more than just its structures. It deletes populations, cultural and technological values, memories, identity, threatens the urban structure of the city and opens questions about the role of the buffer landscape in sanitary protection zone.
Considering the impact of the decommissioning, we are called to think, how this process could be guided differently and instead of being a disadvantage, it would become an opportunity.
Project location and approach
The project explores a case of Visaginas, an atomgrad in Eastern Europe, Lithuania. This 40 years old new town faces the transition due to decommissioning of Ignalina nuclear power plant. Nuclear power plant was the reason to build the city. It transformed the region from the forested and laky land to nuclear energy landscape. To pull this industry up with roots would be the second destructive intervention. Therefore the ways to upcycle nuclear power plant legacy (structures, sites and populations) are researched.
The alternative decommissioning process is proposed, which instead of seeing it as purely technical activity, introduces multidisciplinary and multiscalar approach. It involves several aspects that play a key role in the region: heritage, energy production, social capital, ecology and economy. Thesis proposes a regional framework for projects that integrates these aspects, creating synergies among them and allowing reuse of INPP legacy to enhance natural and cultural qualities of the region and revive the economy.
Project reconsiders the urbanity of the region. Visaginas from a one company town becomes a regional city with agglomeration economy. The city, where surrounding nature is a park, where radioactivity is handled, where technical structures gains poetic values, where living and working no longer separated, where people own their city, where controversies – allure and threat, technology and nature – coexist. Visaginas revives to live a second life on the relics of the First Atomic Age.