Do you know the lifetime of nuclear power plants?

Do you know the lifetime of nuclear power plants?

Organisation: Politas / Neo-logue (Japan)

Publication Date: 04/07/2016

Size of team/newsroom:small


This work was produced for the feature “Questioning the construction of new nuclear power plants” on the online media “Politas,” which aims to connect politics with culture, and aims to stimulate discussions about nuclear power plants by visualizing the history and future of nuclear plants in Japan. Five years have passed since the nuclear accident at TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Still today, around 100,000 people are forced to live in their evacuated areas, and works for putting and end to the accident with full decommissioning are still ongoing. Ever since the accident, discussions about nuclear power stations have tended to require special knowledge and to be heatedly dichotomized between those who are for and against nuclear power use, with the general public finding it increasingly difficult to voice their opinions. This work aims to encourage both sides to discuss issues in a less heated manner, and to invite those who are not interested in such issues to start seeing them as a “personal matter.” In the year after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, the Democratic Party of Japan’s administration set the legal lifetime of nuclear power plants to forty years, with the aim to become nuclear free by the 2030s. Subsequent revisions in the regulatory standards led to the temporary shutdown of all plants. Later, the Liberal Democratic Party that had promoted the use of nuclear power plants moved back into power, revised the DPJ’s measures to break with nuclear power, and is proactively pushing forward the resumption of plant operation. This work aims to share the fact, or the premise that by applying the forty-year operational limit, there will be no plants operating by the year 2049. As users enter their birth year in the infographic, it begins to show the manner in which Japan’s commercial plants began operating and were, or will be, decommissioned over the map of the country, alongside the user’s relative age. Manipulating the play/pause buttons and the progress bar allows users to stop at a certain time and study the situation and the detailed information about each plant, which opens by tapping on their respective icons. This allows the work to also function as a database. The problem of resuming operations and building new plants are essentially separate. Until now, the argument by nuclear power opponents has solely concentrated on the issue of resuming operations. However, questioning the construction of new plants can show new ways to achieve a nuclear free condition. The feature in “Politas” which includes this work was coordinated with the online voting and opinion expression service “Zezehihi.” The vote about the construction of new plants showed that 22% were for, and 78% were against (with 809 votes). This infographic takes inspiration from Isao Hashimoto’s artwork “1945-1998,” which visualizes the nuclear explosions conducted around the world.

What makes this project innovative? What was its impact?

The difference with other projects is that users can compare their own lifetime with that of nuclear plants. An average plant in Japan takes five to ten years to build, and thirty years to decommission. With forty years of operation, it all adds up to about eighty years—around the same as a person’s life expectancy. The infographic therefore shows the plant situation alongside the age of the viewer, aiming to make the issue into a personal matter instead of an abstract problem. Diverse opinions were voiced on social networking services such as Twitter, from people regretting that they “allowed the number of plants to grow in [their] generation”, to those who feared that there will be an electricity shortage if the number of plants decreases suddenly. The design was developed with the aim to reach a wide audience. For the icons of nuclear power plants in the infographic, several designs were considered that were immediately identifiable as such, including forms resembling a plant or the three-pronged radiation symbol. However, those designs have strong political associations. It was also considered to reflect the electrical output of each plant in terms of the size of the icon, or to divide the plants by color according to their operating companies, but we decided to adopt the current simple rectangular shape to limit the amount of information and focus on the lifetime of plants. For the music, we adopted the approach to assign a single tone to each plant (e.g. a marimba for Tokai, a piano for Shika), with the number of tones increasing as more plants are built, the volume of each tone decreasing as the decommissioning starts, and finally disappearing when the decommissioning is completed. The resulting tune allows viewers to understand the rise and fall of nuclear power plants just by listening to the tones, giving a musical dimension to the work which goes beyond mere sound effects.

Technologies used for this project:

Adobe Flash, CreateJS, Haxe, gulp


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