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Japanese stage mass protest against nuclear power

Between 75,000 and 175,000 Japanese citizens rallied in Tokyo yesterday to protest the restarting of idled nuclear plants. National Geographic describes the growing movement:

The first rally in March was modest: a few hundred citizens joined against nuclear power, marking the anniversary of the earthquake- and tsunami-triggered Fukushima Daiichi disaster a year earlier. But in recent weeks, since [Prime Minister Yoshihiko] Noda decided to restart two of Japan's 54 idled nuclear reactors, the protest has swelled into a mass demonstration blocking the streets of Japan's political center.

Building on their Friday night momentum, protestors on Monday staged their largest rally yet, with tens of thousands of people congregating at Yoyogi Park, and then marching in three groups through the capital.

Photo by mpeake.
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Japanese commission: Don’t blame Mother Nature for Fukushima

Cesium spread around Fukushima. (Click to embiggen.)

Japan's Fukushima disaster was one of the worst nuclear accidents in history, rendering a large area of the country uninhabitable for the immediate future. The meltdown was triggered by last year's earthquake and tsunami, but don't go blaming nature, says the commission tasked with assessing the crisis. According to a new report, the tsunami may have been the least significant contributor to the disaster.

The earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011, were natural disasters of a scale that shocked the entire world. Although triggered by these cataclysmic events, the subsequent disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant cannot be regarded as a natural disaster. It was a profoundly manmade disaster -- that could and should have been foreseen and prevented. And its effects could have been mitigated by a more effective human response.

These are the first words in the official report of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission, the introduction to the message from the commission's chair. Apparently he decided on the direct approach.

The report suggests a number of ways in which human error made a horrible situation much, much worse. Just a few of the excoriating lines:

The TEPCO Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant accident was the result of collusion between the government, the regulators and TEPCO, and the lack of governance by said parties. They effectively betrayed the nation’s right to be safe from nuclear accidents. …

We conclude that TEPCO was too quick to cite the tsunami as the cause of the nuclear accident and deny that the earthquake caused any damage. ...

Had there been a higher level of knowledge, training, and equipment inspection related to severe accidents, and had there been specific instructions given to the on-site workers concerning the state of emergency within the necessary time frame, a more effective accident response would have been possible. …

The Commission concludes that the situation continued to deteriorate because the crisis management system of the Kantei, the regulators and other responsible agencies did not function correctly.

Reading this, it becomes clear that Murphy's Law is also in effect in Japan.

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Hope for the unemployed: Fukushima exec lands new gig

Image taken from Mr. Shimizu's resume. (Not really.)

Sometimes the jokes write themselves.

Here's the setup. Masataka Shimizu was the president of Tokyo Electric Power until last May. He was the head of the company when its Fukushima nuclear plant was crippled by last year's earthquake and tsunami, and he led Tepco's much-criticized response.

Last May, he resigned his position. So who hires a man whose leadership failures appear to have contributed to the irradiation of large areas of Japan? To a $26 billion drop in his company's value?

And here's the punchline. From a BBC report:

On Monday, Mr Shimizu starts his new role as an external board member at Fuji Oil Company.

Ah, yes. The oil industry.

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Japan turns reactors back on – but bulks up on solar

Japan's announcement over the weekend that it would restart two nuclear reactors caused no small amount of consternation within the country and abroad. Seventy-one percent of the country opposes turning the reactors back on. They point out that the country has been meeting power demands just fine without the reactors online, and also note some of the challenges of using nuclear power. Such as earthquake/tidal wave combos that knock out power plants and lead to radiation leaks. That has happened before. In recent memory.

On the other hand, Japan is also moving to become a solar power heavyweight. A boom in the country's solar market may soon move it past Germany and Italy to be the second-largest in the world. Bloomberg reports:

Industry Minister Yukio Edano set today a premium price for solar electricity that’s about triple what industrial users now pay for conventional power. That may spur at least $9.6 billion in new installations with 3.2 gigawatts of capacity, Bloomberg New Energy Finance forecast. The total is about equal to the output of three atomic reactors. Solar stocks rallied.

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We’re half-assing the clean-energy transition

Photo by Hans Gerwitz.

The International Energy Agency recently issued its annual progress report [PDF] on clean energy. Here's the five-cent version:

The transition to a low-carbon energy sector is affordable and represents tremendous business opportunities, but investor confidence remains low due to policy frameworks that do not provide certainty and address key barriers to technology deployment. Private sector financing will only reach the levels required if governments create and maintain supportive business environments for low-carbon energy technologies. [my emphasis]

Progress is inadequate -- relative to the goal of limiting global temperature rise to 2 degrees C -- on virtually every low-carbon technology except onshore wind and solar (click for a larger version of this chart):

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Stop the nuclear-industry welfare program

With this nation facing a $15 trillion national debt, there is no shortage of opinions about how to move toward deficit reduction in the federal budget. One topic you will not hear discussed very often on Capitol Hill is the idea of ending one of the oldest American welfare programs -- the extraordinary amount of corporate welfare going to the nuclear energy industry.

Many in Congress talk of getting "big government off the backs of private industry." Here’s an industry we’d like to get off the backs of the taxpayers.

As a senator who is the longest-serving independent in Congress, and as the president of an independent and nonpartisan budget watchdog organization, we do not necessarily agree on everything when it comes to energy and budget policy in the United States. But one thing we strongly agree on is the need to end wasteful subsidies that prop up the nuclear industry. After 60 years, this industry should not require continued and massive corporate welfare. It is time for the nuclear power industry to stand on its own two feet.

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On 26th anniversary, Chernobyl’s crumbling seal gets new cap

Today marks the 26th anniversary of the Chernobyl explosion, the worst nuclear disaster the world has ever seen. Ukraine officials are gifting the nuclear site with an odd sort of birthday hat -- a massive containment cap, or “Chernobyl sarcophagus.”

An international drive has raised funds from governments towards building a new permanent covering to slide over a temporary concrete-and-steel shelter that was hastily erected after the disaster and is now dangerously crumbling.

The 20,000-tonne arched structure, known as the New Safe Confinement, is designed to last for a century and spans 257 meters.

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America’s best-known nuclear family gets mural at world’s best-known nuclear disaster

Street artists have started covering walls within the no-go zone of Chernobyl with advertising from the world's nuclear power companies -- and a portrait of America’s favorite family with a nuclear safety officer dad.

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Watch out for radioactive tissue boxes

Radiation is an effective treatment for some serious illnesses, but it's not generally applied to the common cold -- unless you bought a metal tissue box from Bed Bath & Beyond. In January, the retailer recalled tissue boxes from 200 stores because they had been contaminated by radioactive metal.

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Man braves radiation exposure to care for Fukushima’s abandoned animals

Naoto Matsumura's Facebook page.

Meet the modern-day, post-apocalyptic Dr. Doolittle. Naoto Matsumura lives right inside the Fukushima evacuation zone in the town of Tomioka, just 10 miles from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. The reason he’s stayed in the poisoned region post-nuclear meltdown is so that he can take care of all the abandoned cows, pigs, dogs, and cats.

By all accounts, Tomioka is the apocalypse now: deserted, layered in radioactive dust, buried debris. But the devastation is most evident in Matsumura’s gruesome descriptions of what he’s encountered since -- and what he continues to discover. Dogs and cats left to die slowly and agonizingly of starvation. Caged birds with withered feathers. An emaciated cow and her calf, crying weakly in a corner of a barn.

Read more: Animals, Living, Nuclear