Awareness campaign for plan to dump radioactive water into ocean lands creators in hot water.

You won’t find a society much more accepting of cute illustrated characters and critters than Japan, but even Japan has its limits. On Tuesday, the Reconstruction Agency, the government organization managing cleanup and redevelopment of areas affected by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, put out a new video and pamphlet which were met with a swift backlash from critics.

The point of controversy was the drawing shown above, which depicts the radioactive isotope tritium. Tuesday was also the day a controversial Reconstruction Agency plan to dump water from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plan, which still contains tritium, into the ocean was given government approval to proceed, and opponents called the tritium drawing, which appeared multiple times in the video and pamphlet, an attempt to turn a radioactive substance into something like a “yuru character,” as regional mascots in Japan are called.

In response to the criticism, the Reconstruction Agency has removed the video from YouTube and the pamphlet from its website as of the night of April 14, just one day after they had been posted. On the same day, a meeting was held in the House of Councilors (the upper house of Japan’s parliament) to address the issue.

It should be noted that the agency’s dumping plan has significant scientific support for being seen as the least bad of several unattractive options to deal with the water, and that the tritium concentration, volume, and timing of the dumps are in accordance with internationally recognized limits to prevent adverse health effects. The Reconstruction Agency representative at the meeting also took issue with critics referring to the illustration as a “mascot character,” as no attempt to infuse the drawings with individual identities or personalities was made. “It was not, as some have called it, a ‘yuru character,’ but an illustration used as one part of an explanation to convey accurate information based on legitimate science in an easy-to-understand manner.”

That said, the tritium illustration is undeniably cute, and even if it’s not being given a name, verbal tic, or official favorite food like a proper Japanese mascot character would, it’s definitely designed to look non-threatening. However, “there’s no need to be afraid of the tritium we’ll be dumping” is the entire point the Reconstruction Agency is trying to make. The goal of the video and pamphlet were to overcome fearful reactions to any mention of radioactive material by explaining that there’s already tritium to be found in both sea and fresh water, and that the amount it plans to dump, stretched out over a period of many years, isn’t going to cause health problems, at least according to current medical and environmental science, which would have made a depiction of tritium as a snarling hellbeast a less-than-accurate depiction as well.

It’s hard to design an illustrated creature that produces no emotional response whatsoever, though, and given the sensitive nature of the subject, odds are the smartest thing to have done would have been to just represent the tritium in the video/pamphlet’s diagrams as a bunch of dots or Xs, which is likely to be the route the agency goes as it proceeds to “revise the video and pamphlet’s design based on reactions” to the original version.

Source: Mainichi Shimbun via Otakomu, NHK
Images: YouTube/復興庁/Reconstruction Agency
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