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June 15, 2011

TEPCO: Fukushima Workers In The Pink. (Oh, Sure.)

Mr. Sakamoto, a junior-high graduate, says he feels a “mission” to help tame the national crisis, but at the same time jokes that he’s too dumb to be scared. “Smart people know about sieverts and becquerels, so they’ve really got this sense of self-preservation, fear, suspicion,” he says. “When you think about it, it’s a real plus to be uneducated and ignorant.” From: Japanese Nuclear Cleanup Workers Detail Lax Safety Practices at Plant (WSJ).

I’m really don’t get the deafness of TEPCO’s visual PR.

They release photos (these, supposedly highlighting the good care and well-being of Fukushima plant workers) as if ham-handed photos, rather than calling an issue into question, somehow put minds at ease. In this case, however, the pictures come out coincident with news reports (such as this WSJ piece, and this in-depth investigation by the NYT) detailing the poor training, slipshod treatment, safety short cuts, new illnesses, inferior compensation and just general exploitation of these same plant workers.

Since the accident at Fukushima, the simplistic and naive nature of these photos has been remarkable (reminscent of this early “we plugged the leak” classic I keep linking to.)  In this case, TEPCO wants us to see that their underpaid, undertrained and and largely ignorant work force is getting rest breaks, so here we get multiple pictures of cute, cordoned off little areas where we seem them, yes, resting.

Beyond the achingly sophomoric strategy, this photo has enough other elements to contradict almost any conveyance of calm. The “X, X, X” thing, both in the “cancellation” symbolism itself as well as in screaming “off limits,” is disconcerting and strange, on top of the “field hospital” vibe. And then, what’s with the  Pepto-Bismol pink?

So, rest all you workers while we photograph you resting. In the meantime, I’ll remember these photos well for best exemplifying “insult to injury.”

>> See more takes on Japan earthquake/nuke disaster photos at Bag and Bag Tumblr.<<

( Photo 1: Tokyo Electric Power Co./Kyodo – A worker wearing protective gear sits on a chair at a rest area on the first floor of the service building for the No. 5 and 6 reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima Prefecture on May 19, 2011. Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the troubled plant, released the photographs of rest areas at the plant on June 10, 2011. Photo 2: Tokyo Electric Power Co./Kyodo – Workers take a break inside a facility called Toshiba rest area at the troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima Prefecture on May 15, 2011. The facility has been provided since May 10, 2011, and Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the troubled plant, released the photographs of rest areas at the plant on June 10, 2011.)

(A special research assist to Bag intern, Jonathan Gibby)

  • bks

    It is hard to capture in pictures, isn’t it?  Radioactive whales, radioactive plankton, radioactive thyroids, all below the surface.


  • Ralph

    Thanks Michael, for keeping the focus where it belongs, while all the media try to keep us distracted.  I’m afraid that understanding the reality of Fukushima is too far in the future for us to see,  even while those people live it.

    • Michael Shaw

      Ralph: to the extent there is a steady stream of pictures and news about the crisis, we’ll be posting those photos and challenging the denial.  Also, we’ve got at least two more Fukushima-related images at our Tumblr site today:

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  • AC Missias

    wait, you’re saying that the use of pink is the “insult to injury”?? I mean, you want to use some sort of distinctive color to indicate high-awareness (presumably contaminated?) areas.  (1) did you consider that colors may have different significance in other cultures? (2) would you have felt the same way about lime green or scrubs blue, or is it just the horrificness of… emasculation (?) that makes pink so terrible?

    I think the situation is grim, the handling poor, but these photos don’t say cute to me, they say “trying to use high-tech means to keep things under control” — may or may not be true, but I don’t think it’s trivializing!  field hospital seems like just the right vibe in this war against our own technology…

    • Michael Shaw

      AC. I’m referring to TEPCO’s belief that showing workers having a sit down is supposed to convince us that they are being considered and taken care of. 

      I actually agree completely with where you’re going regarding the pink. I also believe it’s cultural, although I don’t have more to go on in terms of its significance. I do throw it out there though as another confounding element (at least to our domestic eyes) on top of everything else.

  • Gasho

    Fukushima is the most frustrating story to follow!!  All of the images can be categorized as either 

    1) external photos of severe plant damage 
    2) workers standing around in paper suits 
    3) robots in spooky places 
    4) news conference talking heads 
    5) scanning citizens for radioactivity
    6) people on boats in paper suits 
    7) ghost towns and abandoned animals or 8) building exteriors being sprayed by big hoses.

    What we don’t see?

    1) people turning wrenches
    2) reactor breaches/glowing fuel globs
    3) fuel rods being removed from pools
    4) new cooling systems ready for install
    5) massive structural elements providing support
    6) fleets of vessels for contaminated water
    7) bans on sushi/seaweed from Japan 8) world leaders’ weekly updates or

    … and as for these images..

    Hey, if Pink is calm and cooling and psychologically represents healthy lungs and internal organs, then I’m all for it !!

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