nuclear energy and illustrating the consequence

April 1, 2010

Cornelia Hesse-Honegger, Left, Eyes of the Drosophila Mutant ey.opt. Black painted eyes with different shapes and part of wings growing out of the eyes, Watercolor, 1987.

Right, Scentless plant bug from Würenlingen, Canton Aargau, Switzerland. Left cover wing is blown up like a balloon, Watercolor, Zürich 1988 – 1989.

Nuclear energy is increasingly featuring on government lists as a viable solution to rising energy demands and peak oil. However, sustainable it is not, neither should it be a viable option and there is much research into why this is.

One of the arguments often used against nuclear energy is the devastation caused from potential accidents and the effects of low level radiation on the surrounding environment. Cornelia Hesse-Honegger is an illustrator who has devoted her life to researching the effects of nuclear fallout on small insects and plants.

Her illustrations show malformations on insects such as true bugs, which she believes have been caused from low level degrees of artificial radiation. Through careful collection, examination and documentation of over 16 000 deformed insects over the last two decades from in and around nuclear power plants, Hesse-Honegger concluded that “low-dose artificial radioactivity has, despite much controversy, a significant impact on the biosphere.”

Increasingly, we have been asking ourselves whether artists should be expected to play a role in depicting climate change, but what is important here is that by painting these insects she is bringing to light what would otherwise tend to stay invisible – whether in statistical data, or to the naked eye. What we then do with this acquired information is up to us.

Hesse-Honegger’s paper published in the Chemistry & Biodiversity journal can be downloaded here.


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