Page 45 Review by Jonathan
"I'd like to work at Fukushima Daiichi."
'When the explosion happened, I was living in the Tokyo area and looking for work.'
"Are you... serious?"
"Yes. Very much so."
'I was swayed by high pay, curiosity, and just a bit of altruism for those affected. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't concerned about the radiation exposure, but my own research on this case showed me that it wasn't as bad as the media and certain citizen groups claimed. In fact I told myself, if there really was a 'hidden truth of Fukushima' like they said, I'd go there and see what it was for myself.'
Back in March 2011 Japan was struck by the largest earthquake ever to hit the islands. Even more devastating was the consequent tsunami that instantaneously wiped entire towns off the map, and also resulted in three nuclear meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant. Purely in financial terms, it is regarded as the costliest natural disaster in human history. This though, is not that story.
No, this is the story of the everyday recovery work undertaken in the following months, indeed years, which will stretch on and on into the foreseeable future for decades, by the brave or foolhardy legions of workers, most of whom are locals with a connection to the area. Their pay is not remotely lucrative due to how the work is structured through tiers of subcontractors, and up to 7,000 are working at the plant on any given day. This story is told by an amateur artist, using the pen name Kazuto Tatsuta to avoid the possibility of him being barred from working at the plant in the future, and it is effectively all those workers' stories.
I should stop and tell you right now, that if you are expecting a huge undercover journalistic expose of horrendous conditions or unsafe practices you will be disappointed. Yes, there are some sharp corporate goings-on, but the deeply conservative Japanese are not renowned for playing fast and loose when it comes to public safety. In fact, given the sense of embarrassment felt that the meltdowns happened at all, despite the unparalleled and perhaps indefensible ferocity of nature's assault on the plant, there is a real sense of purpose to rectify the situation, in the correct manner, as efficiently as possible.
Think of this, then, as a daily diary from the proverbial radioactive coalface, of one such worker, a tiny cog, engaged in the highly organised, almost endlessly vast programme of works relentlessly taking place around the clock at the plant. Thus we get a relatively objective viewpoint of those required to don the vast amounts of protective clothing and still end up absorbing sufficient radiation that six months work at a time could push you up to the safe annual limits and disqualify you from entering the site. At least until you've decayed a bit... and the radiation you've absorbed too... and then it's back to work.
This work manages to achieve the slightly bizarre feat of being simultaneously quite a dry read of endless rounds of donning Tyvek coveralls, 3M facemasks, overshoe covers, undergoing decontamination procedures and in contrast an extremely engaging story of the day-to-day lives of people who are putting their hearts and souls into their work, in exchange for not more much more than a pittance. I think the latter wouldn't have anywhere near as much impact without the weight of the former, but I did at times feel something mildly akin to the impatience the workers no doubt feel at having to endure another round of dress up and decon.
A truly fascinating work, very ably illustrated for someone who claims to merely be an 'amateur artist', his clean straightforward backgrounds wouldn't look out of place in a Taniguchi work, which will provide an enduring valuable historical testament to one of the most significant and hair-raising / depilatory chapters of the story of nuclear power generation.