Atomic Reactions

From unbridled optimism to the public’s scepticism and back again

7 March 2022 - 26 June 2022

Cutting edge new technology, interactive and moving displays, a beautifully designed exhibit and an actual working nuclear reactor, the exhibition Het Atoom in 1957 marveled audiences with its optimistic, future forward approach to the miracle of nuclear energy. Held at Schiphol Airport, it marked an important moment in the propagation of nuclear energy in postwar Netherlands. Over half a century later, only the actual working reactor remains, the very reactor that is still in use today on TU Delft's campus. Yet the public’s opinion on nuclear energy wavers over the decades. As the reactor is undergoing renovation, we revisit the current state of nuclear science on campus and in the psyche of society. 

Nuclear science evokes a mix of images and emotions. You might think of whitecoats harnessing atoms in reactors, radioactive materials being dumped into our oceans or third world wars. Do you see the promise of freedom from fossil fuels or fear the dangers of radiation that remain for centuries? Since its inception roughly 70 years ago, the information and knowledge (made) available about nuclear energy have been manipulated, distorted or simply misinterpreted, and as a result, so have our associations. Society's opinions are coloured by our educational and cultural backgrounds. Similarly, the framing of nuclear energy in media, politics, or the arts influences our judgment.

In this exhibition and programme of arts events, lectures, and workshops, TU Delft Library aims to untie the messy knot formed around this topic. Join us in asking the tough questions: What political, ethical, ecological, and mythic frames comprise our perspectives? How informed are we with the ongoings of atomic science — its history and presence on campus? Can we disconnect from how charged this subject has become in cultural myths? 

The exhibition and the complementary programme will run from early March to  June 26, 2022. The program consists of a linked series of events which will add content to the exhibition. This program is a collaboration between the Library teams of Studium Generale, Open Spaces, and Academic Heritage.

7 March - 26 June

Exhibition: from post-war exhibition Het Atoom to 21C renovation of the TU Delft reactor

Spanning the Het Atoom exhibition at Schiphol (1957) and the current Reactor Institute Delft renovation, this exhibits revisits the promises and realities of nuclear science and the framing of nuclear subjects by scientists, popular culture, and the media. It includes contemporary and historic perspectives from researchers at the TU, academic heritage, as well as social attitudes as depicted in journalism and the arts, including a survey of political cartoons from the eventful history of public opinion regarding nuclear energy in the Netherlands. The exhibition, serving as a foundation to a wider Atomic program, will grow throughout the course of its run to incorporate content from a range of activities around its subjects and themes.

Location: Library (free and open to the public)  

Past events: Nuclear Art Festival

7 March

The Philosophical Café - Radioactive Stories: Views of Nuclear Energy

Nuclear energy evokes different emotions. While one person sees black-rimmed images of third world wars, pollution and nuclear radiation, another sees a green future without fossil fuels. People's viewpoints have been influenced for years with various stories by Hollywood or Netflix, the media and politics. In this Philosophical Café, three experts dive into stories–or frames–that have coloured the views on nuclear energy to help us examine: How is nuclear energy portrayed and which perception is (or has been) decisive for our thinking about it? What does that mean for our judgment on nuclear energy?

More information and tickets:

Het Filosofisch Café | Radioactieve verhalen: beelden van kernenergie | Studium Generale (
Radioactieve verhalen: beelden van kernenergie — Het Filosofisch Café | Theater de Veste - Delft

8 March

SG Lunch Lecture: “Nuclear fuel: where does it come from?”

Have you ever wondered where our nuclear fuel comes from? How it’s extracted from the earth, and whether this process is clean, safe, and fair enough to fit in the bigger picture of the energy transition? 

Atomic energy, medical isotopes, "The Bomb" – they all need radioactive material to work. While the risks of nuclear energy have been in the public mind for quite some time now, the actual origins of our nuclear fuel are much more obscure.  With this lecture we'll explore the industry, market, and social and environmental realities of uranium mining. Speakers include: Dirk Bannink, co-founder of the nuclear energy documentation and research centre Stichting Laka, and Rianne Teule, radiation expert for Greenpeace, who visited uranium mining towns in Niger and documented environmental impacts.

Location: Library (free and open to the TU community & public)

Time: 12.40 - 13.30

Please see here for more information and registeration.  

26 April

Opening Reception and Lecture: On Comics and Visual Culture

What do cartoons and/or comics say about how we (society) feel about nuclear energy? And does it change over time?  

To complement the Atomic Reactions Exhibition’s historic overview of cartoons depicting the cultural, political, and environmental perspectives of nuclear energy/science/weapons in the Netherlands, there will be a lecture by Dr. Joost Schilperoord from Tillburg University about political cartoons and visual culture surrounding atomic subjects. 

Location: Library (free and open to the TU community & public)
Time: 16.00-18.00
**Register via Eventbrite.

28 April

Cartooning Society: how to draw political cartoons with a professional 

The TU Delft Library and X team up to invite students to a political cartoon workshop with invited professional political cartoonist Maarten Wolterink. Cartoons may be selected to be included in the exhibition's historic overview of cartoons depicting the cultural, political, and environmental perspectives of nuclear energy/science/weapons in the Netherlands.

Location: Library (free and open to the TU community)
Time: 19:00 - 21:00
**Register via Eventbrite.

31 May

Creative Research and Non-Fiction Writing Workshop

Creative non-fiction professor Joshua Wheeler will offer a workshop on creative researching and writing for the students of TU Delft. Wheeler contributes to the NY Times and is the author of Acid West, which contains "Children of the Gadget,” a paradigm-shifting essay on America’s use of atomic weapons on itself. Presented in collaboration with Studium Generale and the creative students of Hesiodos, TU Delft's creative platform. 

Location: Library (free and open to the TU community)

Time: 16:00 - 18:00 with a small borrel until 18:30

**Register via Eventbrite.

2 June

Library Greenroof Outdoor Cinema

We will conclude the Atomic Art Fest portion of the program and the study year with an atomic-themed film screening of Into Eternity: A Film for the Future (2010), a documentary on the safety of nucelar storage.

The film and evening will have an introduction by RELEASE-project member and PhD candidate, Nynke van Uffelen, whose research is dedicated to energy justice from a philosophical perspective. Nynke will help us establish a final critical frame for this fun way to finish the programming year.

The night will also begin with some trivia from the students of the Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Centre for Sustainability.

Location: Library Greenroof (free and open to the TU community)

Time: 20:00

**Register via Eventbrite

This program is a collaboration of:

  • TU Delft Library
  • Academic Heritage
  • Studium Generale
  • Nederlands Instituut voor Beeld en Geluid for comic portion of exhibition and Arts Fest events
  • Reactor Institute of Delft  
  • Design challenge and exhibition component with The Berlage program in B.K. 
  • Study Collection EEMCS 

Image, video and illustration credits

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