Self-styled 'nuclear sculpture', James Acord lived on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, near Richland, Washington, USA, where the plutonium for the first atomic bomb was processed. He moved there and lived there for 15 years to have easier access to radioactive materials produced at Hanford and in order to get to know the scientists and other workers employed on the site.
Invited to undertake a residency in the Physics Department at Imperial College, London, in 1998 by The Arts Catalyst and Imperial College's then arts curator, Acord was inspired to create a series of nuclear reliquaries, in which symbolic items from the nuclear age were housed in boxes modelled after the medieval reliquaries used to preserve sacred Christian objects. As Acord told the Guardian in 1999, “I can’t help feeling that today’s nuclear industry is not unlike the church of the 12th and 13th centuries. We have a priesthood living in remote areas, interacting only with each other. Yet these are the people who make decisions for you and me.” He also created a blackboard piece, Transmutation, detailing the formulae of his proposed transmutation project for a nuclear experimental reactor.
The reliquaries were first shown in the Arts Catalyst exhibition Atomic, which also featured the work of artists Mark Aerial Waller, and Carey Young, exploring the economic and cultural legacy of atomic power, and were exhibited at Imperial College, Kluze Fortress, Bovec, Slovenia and Yard Gallery, NOW, Nottingham, UK.