Drawing the Invisible: An interview with the illustrator for the Radiation Monitoring Project
What are the risks of living near abandoned uranium mines? Are these aging reactors leaking any radiation? Is it ok to let our children play outdoors all day?
We have no way of knowing without proper equipment.
These are the opening lines of the Radiation Monitoring Project funding campaign. RMP works to provide radiation monitors (geiger counters) and training to community members living near or on land contaminated by radiation from nuclear reactors, weapon laboratories, uranium mining and processing sites, and waste facilities. Because radiation is invisible, tasteless, and odourless, it is a particularly difficult type of pollution to document. The RMP is focused on buying and distributing geiger counters so the contamination becomes discernible. Likewise, the project had illustrator Yuko create some illustrations to show the invisible effects and types of circulation characteristic of radiation.
Communicating invisible threats is an area of interest in discard studies because it requires distilling and articulating the ideas that matter most in our concepts of contamination and harm. I asked Yuko some questions about the background and choices behind the images for RMP.
How did you become an illustrator for Diné No Nukes and the Radiation Monitoring Project?
I became interested in the anti-nuclear movement after Tokyo Electric’s nuclear power disaster began in Japan in March of 2011. Many of my friends and family have been affected by the nuclear crisis. I started going to meetings and organizing protests. Soon I found myself disappointed by the existing anti-nuke movement, which had a disproportionate focus on advocating for alternative energy. The alternative energy movement is just a reformed version of late capitalism and based on the assumption that society at large will continue to use the same amount of energy. At the same time, I did not find an adequate stance on the racist nature of the nuclear industry, nor did I find discussion on the occupation of Indigenous lands or the environmental racism against brown and black peoples. Then I met some folks who were fighting against extraction of the source material for nuclear energy generation—uranium. The anti-uranium mining organizers who I met had a focus on the root cause of nuclear production: colonialism, as it is historically prevalent in exploitation of native peoples, their lands and water. So I started organizing with them.
How did you decide which things needed illustration? There are four sets of images– why those?
Nuclear production and its radioactive hazards are both complex subjects that take a lot of researching and studying and are difficult to fight against. Nuclear physics alone drives me nuts. Since 2011, I have been looking at educational materials produced in Japan. Many are good examples of what information is vital and what needed visual translations. These four illustrations are ones I thought were most fundamental. Many people repeatedly use these images in studying nuclear energy. So some parts of my illustrations are original, and some parts are quotations.
Were any of these design principles specifically meant to address the unique situation, such as the aesthetics or types of harm caused by uranium radiation, or particular audiences who are meant to be seeing the images, for example?
Leona Morgan from Diné No Nukes who invited me to join this project asked me to make the anatomical diagram based on the body of a woman with a hair bun traditionally worn by Diné people, so that the community we are giving the training to may find it easier to relate to. I also want to challenge male-centric health standards (for both workers and surrounding populations) imposed by the industry and state. Since the so-called international “standard for radiation dose limit” is set for a white adult male body, it’s important to explicitly talk about biological effects on non-white, non-adult, non-males, and even non-humans in anti-nuclear education.
Did you also design the logo for the Radiation Monitoring project (the hand with turquoise nail polish holding a geiger counter)? If so, can you say a few things about the ideas that went into that design?
Yes, that is my design. I pulled the fist image from the iconic fist for social justice movements and added a geiger counter in the hand. Also reflected is one of the purposes of this project: to create a place for indigenous folks and people of color to learn and be able to protect themselves.
What is the greatest challenge in creating visual messages about radiation?
There are always limits in visualizing complex science, but it is a good challenge that I’m really interested in solving. I am also often troubled that all these images about toxicity and danger are very demoralizing. I am hoping to create something that promotes healing from radioactive poisoning and active ways to fight against the industry.
Where do you hope your images circulate?
All areas affected by nuclear production, including: former uranium mine and mill sites, nuclear reactor communities, waste facility communities, and all other places that are currently threatened by future projects.
Radiation Monitoring Project (RMP) is a collaborative project ofSloths Against Nuclear State (NY), Diné NO NUKES (NM) and Nuclear Energy Information Service (IL) which began in September 2014. You can contact Yuko at radmonitoringproject [at] gmail.com.