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A remarkable day at the RSA, opened by "nuclear" sculptor James L. Acord, (pictured right). The story he told is an extraordinary one. Captivated, as a sculptor and amateur physicist, by the dark romance of nuclear power and weaponry, he took the transmutational power of atomic physics seriously. Sculptors are, he reasoned, people who transform one thing into another. Couldn't the act of transforming one element into another be an essentially poetic act? His plan was to create a precious metal - ruthenium - from a element created as nuclear waste, technetium.

A remarkable day at the RSA, opened by "nuclear" sculptor James L. Acord, (pictured right). The story he told is an extraordinary one. Captivated, as a sculptor and amateur physicist, by the dark romance of nuclear power and weaponry, he took the transmutational power of atomic physics seriously. Sculptors are, he reasoned, people who transform one thing into another. Couldn't the act of transforming one element into another be an essentially poetic act? His plan was to create a precious metal - ruthenium - from a element created as nuclear waste, technetium.

This work has been the focus of his life for almost two decades. To amass sufficient material to create his sculpture and to gain access to a reactor, became the central obsessions of his life. After a false start, he studied for two-and-a-half years to become the only private citizen ever licensed to work with nuclear materials. "I eventually got my license and immediately had the number tattooed on the back of my neck," he said drily, "which is not a requirement." It's there, under the short, military crop: WN 1040701. Though he later achieved his goal of owning sufficient uranium to create the work, the material was confiscated for bureaucratic reasons before he was ever able to arrange access to a reactor. 

His ambition is either magnificent, or insane, or both, but the continual thwarting of it, and the extraordinary convolutions he has gone through to try to achieve his dream, shines an interesting light on how society cloaks the nuclear industry in dense of security and secrecy. He comes over as a man profoundly disappointed at his inability to achieve his one "great idea". He may have failed as a sculptor, but his life succeeds as a piece of performance.

There was a lot going on, so forgive the thumbnail highlights. There was also a great contributionfrom Warwick University's Paul Dorfman (third from left in panel, above) of the Nuclear Consultation Working Group, who talked compellingly about the way notions of risk in the nuclear industry become enshrined in the legislation that surrounds them, and then passionately about the flawed process behind Gordon Brown's recent 2006 public consultation on nuclear energy. It was an exercise in creating consent, he says, not one of enquiry. 

Way too much going on to go into here at any depth; a longer article will appear on the main website when the talks have been transcribed. 

However the day ended as it began, with an extraordinary moment when a fragile-looking Gustav Metzger took the microphone, rustling a few sheets of paper,  to read an extraordinary, eliptical meditation on the history of humanity's love of the apocalyptic. He traced the path through Ludwig Meidner's brutal paintings to Picasso's Guernica. If artists were people who felt the need to test the boundaries of of the world, to go to the most catastrophic extremes, they were doing something essentially human, he said, (if I'm paraphrasing him correctly). As humans we were, he said, almost whispering, driven towards destruction. We needed, he concluded, in an exhausted voice, to apply the brakes. 

Photographs:  James L. Acord's t-shirt Panel: From left: Chris Oakley, Keith Barham, Paul Dorfman, Kypros Kyprianou, Simon Hollington Kate Hudson Kate Hudson talking to Gustav Metzger

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