“ We should make it visible ”

  • Cypress leaves and cones
  • Iitate Village (2014)
  • White parts dispersed throughout the proximal end of the branch are highly contaminated by the fallout in March 2011. The branches that grew out from those parts in 2012 exhibit slight secondary contamination by radioactive particles carried by the wind, while the white hue emitted around the cones that developed in 2013 indicate a remarkable level of contamination. Further, the young leaves that grew in 2014 have higher internal radioactive contamination than the other leaves. In another cypress, we found that while the leaves and cones had the same level of contamination, the seeds in the cones had one third the contamination thereof, indicating that the radioactive caesium is being passed on to the next generation.

This Autoradiograph is changed once a day.3/3

Honorary Mentions
in Prix Ars Electronica 2017

in Kyotographie 2017

Special Jury Award
in Lianzhou foto 2017

App iconArchive app

  • This app includes all of archives (more than 170 works) and can display them both on desktop and mobile. You can manipulate 3D Autoradiographs, enlarge and compare with original samples' color photos and also check where it was sampled on Google map. Please take a look at examples from the link below.

About this project

In 2011, huge amounts of radioactive particles were released into the air from a nuclear power plant in Japan. More than 150,000 people had to be evacuated from neighboring towns and communities. Thereafter, concerns about food safety and health spread across the nation. And even now, the problem of how to dispose of the contaminated soil collected in the decontamination work is a major issue. The radioactive contamination continues to be hotly debated throughout Japan and is a recurring topic in the media. And yet, very few have taken on the task of capturing a visual image of the harmful radiation for the public to see, such as enabling people to see the radiation emitted by objects directly subject to the fallout, to see where the radiation is concentrating in the food chain and in contaminated foodstuffs, and how the flora and the fauna living in radioactive areas take in radioactive substances and where these substances accumulate inside them. This kind of work has not been made public and the media still repeats that radiation is invisible, cannot be heard and is odorless. Looking back on history, radiation was discovered through a photographic plate in 1896. Antoine Henri Becquerel left a photographic plate beside uranium salt in the darkness of a bureau drawer, for a subsequent experiment. When he retrieved the plate, he found that the plate had been already exposed. Two black shadows appearing on the image led to the discovery of radiation and he received the Nobel Prize in Physics for his discovery. Thus, we have had the means to visualize radiation since the beginning of its discovery. Nevertheless, visual record of radioactive contamination is quite limited even after we witnessed the aftermath of the atomic bomb explosions in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, the global fallout from nuclear bomb tests in the 1950s/60s, and the nuclear disasters at Three Mile Island (1979) and Chernobyl (1986). I decided to leave behind as many visual records of the contamination from the nuclear disaster in 2011 as possible. I am fortunate enough to receive the cooperation of Satoshi Mori, Professor emeritus of the University of Tokyo in this endeavor to use autoradiography to make radioactive contamination visible. During the past 13 years, we have been able cover a wide range of specimens from daily necessities to flora and fauna. I hope that these disquieting but meaningful images reach those affected by other nuclear disasters, such as at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, and the downwinders of nuclear bomb test sites, suffering from adverse health effects, and help them see and understand what they were exposed to. In addition, it is my hope that these images become a reference for everyone on the planet, reminding us of the stark reality and consequences of nuclear disasters, which have the potential of occurring at anytime, whether caused by an act of nature, the negligence of man, or even at the hands of terrorists.

In 2011, by trial and error, I began to try and somehow capture visual records of radioactive contamination. Radiation is discussed in terms of “Bq” or “Sv” in scientific reports and textbooks and has been described with coined expressions like “black rain” or “nuclear fallout” to provoke readers' imagination. I strongly believed that it was important and not impossible to leave behind visual records as well, and this was what someone in Japan had to do.

Masamichi Kagaya

Photographer / Web Developer

In preparing for the next possible nuclear disaster, people in the world should keep visual images to know how things may be contaminated in the event of a nuclear accident. It would be my great pleasure if these autoradiographs would serve as educational material not only for Japanese but also for day-care centers, kindergartens, elementary schools, high schools and universities in nations where nuclear power plants exist.

Satoshi Mori

Biologist, Emeritus professor (university of Tokyo)