Is it a nuclear power plant? Behind the Beijing Olympics Big Air Shougang Stadium

But Beijing’s Big Air Shougang Olympic site is attracting attention for its much more avant-garde urban setting.

Behind skiers launching down the 60-metre-high (196-foot) ramp are furnaces, tall chimneys and cooling towers on the site of a former steelworks that for decades contributed to the notoriously polluted skies of the Chinese capital.

The factory, founded in 1919, ceased operations more than 15 years ago, as part of efforts to clean the air in the capital ahead of the 2008 Summer Olympics.

According to engineering and design firm ARUP, which has transformed the site into a bustling center for tourism and art exhibitions, in 2013 it even hosted an electronic music festival.
The rusting and aging remains of the mill have never been demolished, not even for the great aerial jump of the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Instead, the old mill has been incorporated into Big Air Shougang’s design. One of the cooling towers even bears the Games logo.

The jump caught the attention of social media users, in part for the mountains of fake snow generated to host the event, but also for the intrigue of what these towers are and why they still stand, just behind the jump.

Some Twitter users wondered if it was a nuclear power plant.

“The Olympics Big Air Stadium appears to be right next to the Springfield Nuclear Generating Station,” said a user by the name of @jlove1982 wrote.
Another one, @LindsayMplswrote, “It’s pretty dystopian to have some sort of nuclear facility as the backdrop for this Big Air ski event.”
The Shougang Big Air is the world’s first permanent big air site for long-term use. It sits on the shore of Qunming Lake, on the west side of the cooling towers 88 meters (288 feet) above sea level, according to architecture firm TeamMinus, which designed the jump.

TeamMinus described the inspiration behind its design on its website, citing the influence of Chinese flying apsaras, celestial beings that appear in both Buddhist and Hindu cultures.

Britain's Katie Summerhayes competing on Monday.
New Zealander Finn Bilous competes in the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics at the Big Air Shougang.

The Beijing government calls the site a “green and ecological demonstration zone”, according to ARUP, which could be extended to other parts of the country.

While the regeneration project is a good example of how to repurpose aging infrastructure, closing the plant was not necessarily a “green” decision, as operations – and the associated greenhouse gas emissions to steelmaking – have actually been moved to another part of the country.

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In 2005, the entire production plant, owned and operated by state-owned steel company Shougang Group, moved to Caofeidian in neighboring Hebei province, according to ARUP.

The decision to move the plant was part of the Beijing government’s economic restructuring and pollution control initiatives.

China is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases that fuel the climate crisis, producing more than a quarter of global annual emissions.
The Big Air isn’t the first element of the Beijing games to raise questions about the games’ environmental credentials. The artificial snow generated for the Games is made from large amounts of water and electricity.
A recent CNN report also showed how the Yanqing site was built in the former core area of ​​Songshan National Nature Reserve, a park founded in 1985 to protect its dense forests, alpine grasslands and rich biodiversity.

The Beijing organizing committee did not respond to CNN’s request for comment as to whether it knew the ski center was built inside the former core area of ​​the nature reserve. But in a response to CNN, the IOC said the development of the Yanqing area is “transforming the area – a rural suburb of Beijing – into a major four-season tourist destination, improving lives and boosting the local economy.”

This story has been updated to reflect the events unfolding in Shougang.

Journalist Lianne Kolirin reported from London, and Nectar Gan and Tom Booth reported from Beijing.

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