Memorial to Selfishness

Scroll this

This is the sixth post in a series highlighting the work of the Nuclear Natures project, a 6-year research project funded by the Swedish Research Council, based at the Department of Thematic Studies at Linköping University in Sweden and led by Prof. Anna Storm. You can explore all essays in Nuclear Natures: A Concept Explored in Six Briefs on their project page.

I lived next to the Tölö park in central Helsinki for fourteen years, cutting through it on my way to work, returning in the evening for a walk around the bay in the middle of the park. This is where you get closest to “nature” in the centre of the city, but the area is also packed with sites of much cultural significance. South of the bay stands Alvar Aalto’s monumental Finlandia Hall, the National Museum, the Helsinki Music Centre, the Helsinki Central Library Oodi, contemporary art museum Kiasma, and the Parliament House. On the western side, between the busy Mannerheim Street and the bay, the remains of an old sugar factory are vaguely discernible in the landscape. The true landmark here is the Opera House. The Helsinki City Winter Garden and the Olympic Stadium are located north of the bay, and on the eastern side run the main railways leading to the Helsinki Central Station. Tucked between the railyard and the bay one finds Fågelsång, a green hilly area with several late-19th-century wooden villas.

Amidst the villas, on the highest spot and surrounded by trees and flowers, I stand in front of a nearly three-metre-tall grey granite slab. On the monolith is carved the radiation warning symbol, a title “Itsekkyyden Muistomerkki” (Memorial to Selfishness), and the names of those 129 members of the Finnish parliament who voted for nuclear power on 1 July 2010. On that day, the parliament convened to decide on three favourable governmental Decisions-in-Principle (DiP) on future investments in nuclear energy: 1) the building of a fourth reactor in the Olkiluoto nuclear power plant by its owner TVO, 2) the enlargement of the Onkalo repository for spent nuclear fuel in Olkiluoto by Posiva, and 3) the building of a completely new plant in northern Finland by Fennovoima. During the two days leading to the voting, the parliament spent a total of twenty-one and half hours debating the DiPs and, ultimately, all three were ratified. Subsequently, the names of those representatives who voted yes on both or either one of DiPs one or three were carved onto the monolith. Voting yes only on DiP two would not get you on the list.

The memorial was originally conceived as part of Greenpeace Nordic’s anti-nuclear campaigning and was first presented to the public in front of the Parliament House on 29 June 2010. There it remained until the voting day (Figure 7), after which the slab was inscribed with the names. During summer and autumn 2010, the memorial spent some time in front of the Central Station in the middle of the city, before it was moved to its current location on 21  October. Juha Aromaa, Greenpeace Nordic’s communications manager at the time, recounts how Aulis Junes, a political activist who lived in one of the aforementioned old villas and rented the property from the city of Helsinki, gave permission to erect the memorial on the lot (J. Aromaa, pers. comm., 24 May 2023). Although this came as a surprise to the municipality, to this date, they have not come up with any claims to have the memorial removed.

The monolith in front of the Parliament House in Helsinki on 1 June 2010, most likely shortly after the voting had ended at 10.20 am. Speaking is member of parliament Tuomo Puumala (Centre Party) who voted no on all three DiPs.
Figure 7. The monolith in front of the Parliament House in Helsinki on 1 June 2010, most likely shortly after the voting had ended at 10.20 am. Speaking is member of parliament Tuomo Puumala (Centre Party) who voted no on all three DiPs. Photo: Janne Björklund. Published unaltered under the CC BY-SA 2.0 license (

The original idea for the memorial came from Harri Lammi, programme director at Greenpeace Nordic at the time. However, Lammi tells me that the initial concept was quite different from what we see now (H. Lammi, pers. comm., 22 May 2023).

“I was inspired by Michael Madsen’s (2010) documentary film Into Eternity, which drew attention to the vast timescales of managing radioactive decay and the seemingly hopeless task of communicating the risks involved to future generations. My initial intention was not to create a protest piece, but a conceptual art project that would address the temporal scale of the social and environmental effects that political decisions regarding nuclear power can have—effects that are undoubtedly unmatched by any other political decision-making process. As a work of conceptual art, the monument was only intended to exist on the internet, but the Greenpeace communications division saw it as a great opportunity to create something more lasting.”

As a media strategy, Memorial to Selfishness was undeniably successful. In 2011, it was awarded with a gold price by Grafia, the Finnish association of visual communication designers in the Innovative media or environment category of their annual creative design competition. The jury elaborated on their decision that, as a piece of “outdoor advertisement, the monument will last at least half of the time of the effects of the political decision which the piece criticises” (Uotila et al. 2010, 57).

As a semiotic strategy, Memorial to Selfishness builds on the durability of the chosen material, not much unlike Maya stelae or Viking rune stones, but like any attempts to memorialise contemporary events, ideas or feelings, its successfulness remains debatable (Storm 2020; Knowles 2022; Keating & Storm 2023). “It is amazing how quickly people forgot the meaning of the message,” laments Lammi, who around 2015–2017 started noticing how the public was using the memorial as a medium for expressing their radically altered opinions on nuclear power (Figure 8). For years now, the memorial has been tagged, cleaned, and retagged several times, and the graffiti—whether meant as sarcastic remarks or sincere statements—reflect a shift in the popular perception of nuclear power. “Whereas the original message was that nuclear power produces waste, and that more nuclear power plants mean more nuclear waste, today the discussions over nuclear energy revolve around questions of climate change and nuclear power as a source of clean energy” (H. Lammi, pers. comm., 22 May 2023). For instance, nuclear power is portrayed as part of the plan to meet the Sustainable Development Goals set by the UN, and even Greenpeace now sees the memorial as outdated and clashing with their vision of nuclear power in the context of nature preservation- or climate change-related issues (Järvinen 2022). Opportunistically, some Finnish politicians have used this as a chance for reclamation and are now openly proud to have their name on the memorial (ibid.).

Memorial to Selfishness in its current location in Fågelsång in Helsinki. The graffito (in Finnish) says ‘NUCLEAR POWER IS BEST :DD.
Figure 8. Memorial to Selfishness in its current location in Fågelsång in Helsinki. The graffito (in Finnish) says ‘NUCLEAR POWER IS BEST :DD.’ In recent years, the monolith has seen graffiti reflecting the ideology that nuclear power is part of the solution to the climate crisis. Photo: Marko Mikael Marila (11 September 2023).

As a mnemonic device, then, the memorial not only aims to communicate with the future, but it also records changes in the shifting attitudes toward nuclear power through active forms of forgetting. “It has become a modern manifestation of damnatio memoriae, the ancient practice of defacing or shaming statues or images of former rulers,” Lammi confirms. Against this background, it is perhaps ironic that the building of a fourth reactor at Olkiluoto never began because Olkiluoto 3 was seriously delayed. Similarly, as a joint venture with Russia’s Rosatom, the construction of Fennovoima’s Hanhikivi plant in northern Finland has been halted. “We knew that both projects would be economically unfeasible, but no one foresaw the war in Ukraine. Perhaps a more fitting name would have been Memorial to Short-sightedness,” contends Aromaa. Be that as it may, one thing is clear: the memorial continues to record and represent the contradictions and uncertainties that characterise the technologies and social practices related to the nuclear industry and, ultimately, the conflicting visions of nuclear energy as natural or unnatural; as either part of or a solution to environmental problems. Perhaps it is precisely these ambiguities rather than the certainty that nuclear power is unequivocally good or bad that ought to be communicated with future generations.


Järvinen, Katariina 2022. ‘Itsekkyyden muistomerkki’ vanhentui Helsingin Linnunlaulussa harvinaisen nopeasti—‘En tekisi tänä päivänä’, myönnetään Greenpeacesta. Helsingin Sanomat, 18 July 2022.

Keating, Thomas & Anna Storm 2023. Nuclear memory: Archival, aesthetic, speculative. Progress in Environmental Geography 2(1–2), 97–117.

Knowles, Scott 2022. Slow disaster and the challenge of nuclear memory. In Living in a Nuclear World: From Fukushima to Hiroshima, edited by Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent, Soraya Boudia & Kyoko Sato, pp. 299–318. London: Routledge.

Storm, Anna 2020. When we have left the nuclear territories: Nonhuman entanglements with radioactive remains. In Deterritorialising the Future: Heritage in, of and after the Anthropocene, edited by Colin Sterling & Rodney Harrison, pp. 318–343. London: Open Humanities Press.

Uotila, Hannamari, Saara Ertamo & Katja Ojala (ed.) 2010. Vuoden huiput: parasta suomalaista graafista suunnittelua ja mainontaa. Helsinki: Grafia, the association of visual communication designers in Finland.

The following two tabs change content below.

Marko Mikael Marila

Postdoctoral researcher at Linköping University
​Marko Mikael Marila (b. 1981) is a researcher and educator based in Linköping, Sweden. He holds a PhD in history and philosophy of archaeology and has taught and published in the fields of archaeology, heritage studies, philosophy, artistic research, and environmental humanities. His creative work often combines archaeological sensibilities with the practices of contemporary art. Marila’s current research at Linköping University deals with the histories, heritages, and archaeologies of uranium mining and anti-uranium and anti-nuclear social movements.

Latest posts by Marko Mikael Marila (see all)

NiCHE encourages comments and constructive discussion of our articles. We reserve the right to delete comments that fail to meet our guidelines including comments under aliases, or that contain spam, harassment, or attacks on an individual.