Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Sydney Morning Herald: #Radioactive art tackles fall-out for Japan"


Creators wanted "to bring to the viewer the fear of the unknown".


Ken and Julia Yonetani bring "arts" made of radioactive uranium glass beads to Australia, "to convey the fear of contamination that Japan has been living with since last year's Fukushima nuclear disaster", according to The Sydney Morning Herald (8/5/2012):

KEN and Julia Yonetani are adamant their radioactive artworks are safe. They even had scientists from the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation measure the amount of radiation produced by the works in What the Birds Knew.

Yet it's hard not to feel apprehensive in the presence of installations that glow brightly because of the uranium glass beads used in their creation.

''I guess when you turn on the light and it glows and you've been handling it all day you go 'oh','' Julia says. ''We got the beads tested just to make sure because when people hear 'uranium' they automatically think of danger.''

The couple, who have previously created artworks with salt and sugar, used 50,000 uranium glass beads in USA, a two-metre-wide chandelier that illuminates the ground floor of the 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art in Haymarket. It is the largest of the 30 chandeliers they will create to represent the nuclear-powered nations of the world.
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Upstairs, a six-metre ant made of 10,000 beads stands opposite glowing warning signs that read ''meltdown'' and ''radioactive''. The uranium glass came from a US company and wasn't difficult to import into Australia nor dangerous to use.

Uranium glass is not sufficiently radioactive to pose a health hazard to viewers either, the Yonetanis say. It was widely used in the late 19th-century to make decorative objects such as sugar bowls, cake stands and drinking glasses.

The installations might emit less radiation than a smoke detector or mammogram but they are designed to convey the fear of contamination that Japan has been living with since last year's Fukushima nuclear disaster.

''We were trying to bring to the viewer the fear of the unknown,'' Julia says.


Fear of the unknown? So make it known by telling us what the air dose level is in microsievert/hour right beneath the 50,000-bead chandelier. Then we'll decide if it's "safe".

(UPDATE) Of course. The air dose rate would be background, as uranium emits alpha. Thank you readers. I still don't want to be near the chandelier, much as I don't want to be near those bricks made of uranium mining debris which are still used at the government ministry buildings.

(H/T John Noah)

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

The artists should consider making something for Mr. Noda also, ideally something that could stimulate empathy for the TEPCO/NISA/DPJ victims. Or maybe something that occassionally emits smoke through a broken filter and outputs ash on the floor. There are so many possibilities.

Anonymous said...

Art is already in Japan, and it's called Fukushima I Nuke Plant. Pick your favorite reactor. I think Noda can spend happy times in Reactor 3, taking a dip in the spent fuel pool. Beautiful greenish water through the rubble I see.

Vyse Legendaire said...

Fear of the unknown, laugh. Isn't it the 'threat of the known'? Cannot stand this sophistic poseur 'art'.

Anonymous said...

If it's uranium, alpha radiation only reaches a few centimeters and it's not powerful enough to go through the first layer of your skin. If you eat the piece it may be dangerous, though, because of internal exposure.

Anonymous said...

With uranium glass there is no air dose, as the bad stuff is completely vitrified, i.e. encased in glass - so all the radiation is soaked up by it. It's only going to be a problem to future generations (or if someone comes along and melts it).

Anonymous said...

Well to be precise, you will get about 10 alpha emission (no problem inside the beads) and 9 beta emaission until the uranium decayed to stable lead.

But uranium beads also give of gamma rays. From the uranium itself you mainly see low energy gamma rays: 238U will show up with 63 and 91 keV, while 235U will result in 185 keV gamma rays. Of course the daughter products of the decayed uranium will add their specific gamma ray spectrum as well.

Thus, uranium marbles and uranium glass will give off gamma and beta radiation. While it might pose only little health risk, I still would not recommend to decorate the kids room with these things.

By the way, if you want to see how a simple Radex RD1706 (contains two Geiger Mueller counters sensitive to Beta and gamma rays) reacts to a few uranium glass beads:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u2Bh4AuKpU4

Another note, the green light from the beads is not from radiation, it is due to fluorescence. So you have to shine UV light (invisible for us) on the beads and they will convert this UV light into the green visible light.

Anonymous said...

wah. this is lame. let's not forget that radioactivity entails TRANSMUTATION.

if u want to accurately expresses the dangers in an artistic way, then make a chandelier from fresh fruit and watch it "decay"!!! because this is what is happening.

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