On nuclear pasts
and radiant futures
Artistic research
and exhibition

Krisztina Erdei, March 2024 Bátaapáti field research report

Krisztina Erdei
Bataapati, Hungary

Photo from the steeple from the abandoned village of Üveghuta

After previous fieldwork, I decided to focus my project on Bataapati, a small village in Tolna County, where the Hungarian National Radioactive Waste Storage Facility is located. The facility, which stores low and intermediate level nuclear waste, has been in operation since 2012. I find it interesting to observe how the waste repository has become entangled in the life of the village, and to make a connection between other events in the collective memory and the industrial facility built with billions of dollars.  I invited filmmaker Daniel Misota to collaborate on the project.

For the first time, we visited Bátaapáti together at the end of March to collect materials and stories from local residents.The aim of our project is to explore several layers of the village's history, so that people do not only know Bátaapáti because of the storage facility. We want to link the recent innovations with the events of the past. We also want to find out how much the storage facility has become part of the life of the village and how the local people feel about it.

We made sure to address several generations during our fieldwork, speaking with 93-year-old Aunt Rézi, Aunt Juci in her sixties, and Sanyi and Józsi, who represent the middle generation. In addition, Réka and her sister, from the youngest generation, will help us with the rest of the project.

The stories reveal a settlement where the wars of the twentieth century had a profound effect on the close-knit community. In 1949, after the Second World War, hundreds of Swabians were expelled from the area. This led to the complete depopulation of neighboring Üveghuta. Uncle Jani, who is in his seventies, told us that his best friend's mother, a Swabian, managed to escape the expulsion. She later taught him how to carry manure to the vineyard in a basket over his head to ensure a good harvest the following year. 

Aunt Rézi lost her father during the war, which was particularly difficult as she had lost her mother at a young age. As a result, only her stepmother was present when Rézi became a parent herself. Together with her daughter, she reminisced about the childhood pranks they played in the forested settlement, such as chasing sparrows and throwing out foxes.

Aunt Juci has one month left until her retirement. She showed me around the small church in the village centre, to which she has been connected since her childhood. As a child, Aunt Juci assisted her friend in ringing the bell daily at this Lutheran church. At 6am, 12pm, and 8pm, two children of different religions join hands to ring the bell together. The collected personal stories sensitively reveal the life of the village of Bátaapáti before it decided to accept small and moderately contaminated nuclear waste between its layers of granite.

On Sunday, we visited the ruins of Üveghuta, the abandoned settlement at the edge of the village. Only the tower of the former church remains, serving as a reminder that glassmakers and their families once resided here. We also discovered the remains of an old watering hole a few meters from the tower, and stumbled upon the village cemetery a few hundred meters further, where tombstones peek out from the bushes.

Bátaapáti, the still-living village, has the nuclear waste repository and the ruins of Üveghuta as its two endpoints. In the case of the repository, humans are encroaching on another area of nature, while in Üveghuta, nature is gradually reclaiming the environment built by humans. Although the storage facility is licensed to operate until 2038 and may store nuclear waste for thousands of years undisturbed, the Üveghuta tower is merely a memory of a community that existed for only two hundred years. 

The time frame for the nuclear atomic cemetery cannot be easily compared to these memories. However, in our project, we aim to present this time horizon in a speculative manner. This will help to integrate the open time horizons of Bátaapát into the village's history, at least hypothetically.

We will be back at work in May.

Aunt Juci
Aunt Rezi and Józsi
Aunt Rezi
The Evangelical Church
Looking at pressed clovers, and village demographic statistics
House shoes made by Aunt Rezi
A pillow within a Swabian-style (German) house
Needlepoint from within a Swabian-style (German) house
Family photo within a Swabian (German) house
Old family photo from within a Swabian-style (German) house
Uncle Jani
Uncle Jani (2)
Uncle Papi and Krisztina's collaborator, Daniel