Statue of child clad in protective suit met with criticism in disaster-hit Fukushima

Kyodo

A statue of a child wearing a protective suit near Fukushima Station has sparked criticism that it gives the impression that residents still need such gear following the 2011 nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 plant.

The 6.2-meter-high statue, called “Sun Child,” was made by contemporary artist Kenji Yanobe to express his wish for a world free from nuclear disasters. The statue indicates the surrounding air is “clean” as the child is holding a helmet and a radiation counter on its chest reads “000”.

Yanobe apologized on his website Friday for “unsettling” some people with his artwork, which was installed in the city of Fukushima on Aug. 3.

“I wanted to make a work that encourages people (in Fukushima) … and made the statue of a child standing up bravely and strongly against any difficulties it faces,” he said. “The clothing looks like protective gear, but it is also armor to confront major issues and, being like a space suit, it also carries a futuristic image.”

But he admitted that his earlier explanation of the artwork — such as calling the clothing “protective gear” and the device on the statue’s chest a “Geiger counter” — may have led to misunderstandings.

Critical views were posted on Twitter and the Fukushima Municipal Government received calls demanding the statue’s removal. “The statue will encourage harmful rumors to be spread because it gives an impression that people in Fukushima cannot live without protective gear,” one person said.

Yanobe said he wants to discuss what to do with the statue with the city.

Others argued the statue was “unscientific” because it indicates that it would only be safe for someone wearing protective gear to take off their helmet when the radiation level falls to zero. Radiation levels are typically above zero even in areas not affected by nuclear accidents due to natural radiation.

Yanobe said in a statement, “I should have paid more attention to the fact that accurate knowledge about radiation is needed much more now than before the disaster.”

In a Twitter post, Fukushima Mayor Hiroshi Kohata called for peoples’ understanding, saying, “Contemporary art is abstract expression, unlike science.”