July 1, 2011

Japan's Nuke Plant "Amusement" Centers: Hello Kitty Meets Alice in Wonderland

Shika Nuke Visitor Center NYT

Here in Shika, more than 100,000 guests last year visited the P.R. building where Alice discovers the wonders of nuclear power. The Caterpillar reassures Alice about radiation and the Cheshire Cat helps her learn about the energy source. Instead of going down a rabbit hole, Alice shrinks after eating a candy and enters a 1:25 scale model of the Shika nuclear plant nearby. — from: ‘Safety Myth’ Left Japan Ripe for Nuclear Crisis (NYT)

How did they do it? How did Japan build an air-tight “safety myth” around nuclear power? At the core, if you’ll pardon the pun, it involved a collusion between industry and government. From there, it was years of PR.

Last week’s NYT story elaborates the strategy and resulting mindset. The photos and slideshow, though, throw their own light on the veneer, both in symbolism, and in the real trappings at Japan’s nuke plant visitor centers.

Things have come a long way since Reddy Kilowatt. In the “welcome photo” above, a matrix of teenage energy, Hello Kitty and origami energize the amusement park motif as infantilization and fantasy provide a candy-coated experience within the Shika plant.

Japan Nuke power safety myth Alice in Wonderland

Once inside, what a curious mix in this Alice in Wonderland display. As the cloying video plays inside the tree, I can’t help but appreciate the irony here: this tiny member of the public might as well be another mushroom. And then, might the odd, even phallic caterpillar perched on one of those mushrooms hint at the not-so-childlike power and danger just beyond these walls?

(photo: Ko Sasaki for The New York Times)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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