Ideas beyond the nuclear station

We should also consider the oil platforms and the superstores

What should be done with the worrysome remains of Trawsfynydd power station and others like it? Jonathan Glancey reviews four options on offer

By the end of this year, the nuclear fuel that once drove the twin steam turbines of the Trawsfynydd power station, in the heart of Snowdonia, will have been removed. By the end of 1997 the turbine hall will have been demolished. At the turn of the century, what remains of this radioactive structure will be sheathed in a brace of 100ft high towers of unfathomable concrete. Only in the year 2136 will these be demolished and the 2,000-acre site be declared fit for human habitation and ovine grazing.

"Power to Change" is a highly-charged and thought-provoking exhibition currently on show at the Royal Institute of British Architects, London, based on a series of TV documentaries made by DavidBarrie for BBC Wales last year. It explains the approach taken by four firms of imaginative architects from Britain, the United States and Japan in response to a brief calling for ideas on what on earth should be done with the worrysome remains of Trawsfynydd power station over the next 141 years before its final dissolution. The exhibition continues at the Museum of Wales, Cardiff, later in the spring.

For anyone concerned with the environment, and in particular, the £18bn question (the price we will have to pay) of what we are going to do with a generation of life-expired, gas-cooled nuclear power stations built in the Sixties, "Power to Change" is more than a must, or even a necessity: it is a responsibility. By 2010, more than 50,000 megawatts of current nuclear plant (the equivalent of 86 Trawsfynydds) will be made redundant in Britain. Each power station will cost something like £600m to "decommission" and about 135 years to lose its lethal potency. We need to make some decisions pretty soon about how we are going to meet this challenge. The key questions "Power to Change" asks are: to what use can we put these spent Vulcans and what can we do to integrate them into tainted landscapes?

Trawsfynydd is sited in one of the most sublime, yet raddled landscapes in Britain. Some people - very few - might thrill to its heroic design, given shape by Basil Spence (1907-76), bearded and bow-tied architect of Coventry cathedral. If architects can help find a solution to redeeming the architecture and setting of Trawsfynydd, a cathedral of A-bomb power, then we might be on the road to solving a national issue of what you might call mega-importance.

In a brief formalised by the architect David Rock, the four teams were asked to consider the following questions: "What could or should Trawsfynydd become? Can the site of the old power station inaugurate or sustain a new age of activity? If we were to travel down the A470 in 60 years' time, what could or should we see? Above all, how might such a technological intervention in the landscape be reintegrated into the social, economic and natural environment?"

This, in brief, is how they answered. Arup Associates (working with the engineers Ove Arup & Partners and the Lighting Design Partnership) suggested entombing the killer carcasses in three hills made of industrial waste taken from the slate-tips that form the austere backdrop to the nearby town of Blaenau Ffestiniog, which has lived in the shadow of the power station since it was opened in 1965. Over the slates, Arups would plant grass, moss and rings of trees; within a remarkably short time, the nuclear threat below would disappear and nature allowed to take over.

Tunnels bored into the hills would allow access to the redundant power station to nuclear experts as well as to the public, who - in tolerably safe conditions - would learn to understand the true nature, and future, of nuclear power in Britain. Arups also recommends a new hotel on the lakeside to encourage conventional Snowdonian tourist activities: hiking, climbing, pony-trekking and sheep-spotting.

The American architects SITE (Sculpture into the Environment), fronted by James Wines and best known for its deliciously irreverent "crumbling" facade of the Best supermarket, Houston, Texas, plans a symbol of "nature's revenge": the remnants of Basil Spence's structure would be covered in mossy trellises, while a new building spiralling like a snail's shell into a hillside across the lake would serve as a centre explaining the ways in which nuclear power stations can be dismantled. This would be, says SITE, a "living museum", a repository of ever-expanding, but never explosive, knowledge concerning nuclear energy.

Alsop & Strmer (architects of the recently completed £100m "Grand Bleu", or Hotel du Dpartement, Marseilles) would, with a gang of artists and poets, transform Trawsfynydd into a "model nuclear decommissioning factory", screened by stupendous walls,treated as one gigantic artwork in the Gwynedd landscape. A branch of the Science Museum would be built here.

Ushida-Findlay, an Anglo-Japanese husband-and-wife team who think Spence's buildings "beautiful", would, instead of being apologetic, wrap the ruins prominently in what looks like a pair of voluminous hi-tech pyjamas designed for the Michelin Man.

These ideas, says David Barrie, can be taken up or trashed, but they represent an imaginative response to a problem that has, to date, been swept uncomfortably under the national carpet. More importantly, these suggestions have been put to the local community as a point of discussion, both through presentations and a debate in the canteen and turbine hall at Trawsfynydd and, to a wider public, through the medium of BBC Wales.

They are not considered unrealistic by the nuclear and other authorities: "Power for Change" has the support of Nuclear Electric plc, as well as the Development Board for Rural Wales, the Training and Enterprise Council for North West Wales, the BuildingsExperiences Trust (which has made the Trawsfynydd challenge a project for schoolchildren), the RIBA and the Museum of Wales. If ever there was a case of avant-garde architecture working in service of every jack-one-of-us, "Power to Change" is it.

Basil Spence wondered (as with all his buildings, and taking his cue from Sir John Soane) how Trawsfynydd would look as a ruin in years to come. It is a question that has haunted local people, not least because the nuclear power station (these three words mouthed always in English in this Welsh-speaking area as if to emphasise the alien nature of the beast) provided the mainstay of employment in the Blaenau district for close on 30 years. The slate mines - once the core of the local economy - had all but closed by 1900, although the narrow-gauge Ffestiniog Railway, which once carried the slates down the mountainsides to the coast at Porthmadog, still chuffs its way profitably up and down, symbol of Snowdonia's role as one enormous leisure resort. Local people would like to know not only whether Trawsfynydd can be made safe, but also if and how jobs can be regenerated among the sheep, water and radiant hills.

The rest of us, meanwhile, cannot afford to be complacent. Trawsfynydd is a global issue. Yet, while we gauge our power to change such demonic devices into heavenly sites, we might also take time to consider what we are going to do with the 150 or so North Sea Oil platforms about to become redundant (out of sight, out of mind?), or the wretched superstores that we have allowed to rape our countryside and market towns over the past 15 years; these, like nuclear power stations, have a very limited shelf-life. What happens to them when we decide to go "telly-shopping" instead of driving out on fast new roads to load up on more gaseous calories than are good for us in fancy sheds decorated by servile architects?

"Power to Change" is, quite simply, one of the most important architectural exhibitions of our times. Go and see it. Go and walk among the sheep in Snowdonia. Then, take the Ffestiniog Railway down to Portmeirion (alight, by the engine shed at Boston Lodge and climb up over the track through the woods to get there) and consider what you would do while holing up in Portmeirion, Clough Williams-Ellis's glorious architectural fantasia, the gentlest and most loveable of all intrusions by an architect into a pre-nuclear Welsh landscape.

Power to Change, at the RIBA, 66 Portland Place, London W1 until 29 April, entrance free, 0171-580 5533.

National Museum of Wales, Cathay's Park, Cardiff. 15 May to 12 June, 01222 397951.

Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week