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Japan's New Environmental Minister Calls for Closing Down All Nuclear Reactors to Prevent Another Disaster Like Fukushima

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Japan's New Environmental Minister Calls for Closing Down All Nuclear Reactors to Prevent Another Disaster Like Fukushima
Japan's newly-appointed Environment and Nuclear Disaster Minister Shinjiro Koizumi enters the prime minister's official residence in Tokyo on Sept. 11. TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA / AFP / Getty Images

By Jessica Corbett

Japan's new environmental minister, Shinjiro Koizumi, called Wednesday for permanently shutting down the nation's nuclear reactors to prevent a repeat of the 2011 Fukushima disaster, comments that came just a day after Koizumi's predecessor recommended dumping more than one million tons of radioactive wastewater from the power plant into the Pacific Ocean.


Koizumi was appointed to his position Wednesday as part of a broader shake-up of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's cabinet. He is the 38-year-old son of former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, a vocal critic of nuclear energy.

"I would like to study how we will scrap them, not how to retain them," the younger Koizumi, whose ministry oversees Japan's nuclear regulator, said during his first news conference late Wednesday. "We will be doomed if we allow another nuclear accident to occur. We never know when we'll have an earthquake."

In March of 2011, a powerful earthquake triggered a tsunami that caused the meltdown of three nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant on Japan's northeastern coast, forcing tens of thousands of people to flee radiation around the plant. It was the world's second-worst nuclear disaster, after Chernobyl.

After the disaster, all 54 of Japan's nuclear reactors were shut down. Reuters reported Wednesday that "about 40 percent of the pre-Fukushima fleet is being decommissioned" and only six reactors are currently operating. Amid drawn out legal battles over the impacts of the meltdown, campaigners have ramped up opposition to nuclear power generation in the country.

However, some Japanese politicians, including the current prime minister, have argued that nuclear energy is necessary to meet national climate goals. Japan's new trade and industry minister, Isshu Sugawara, criticized Koizumi's call to shutter the country's reactors. "There are risks and fears about nuclear power," Sugawara said. "But 'zero-nukes' is, at the moment and in the future, not realistic."

According to The Guardian:

Japan's government wants nuclear power to comprise 20 percent to 22 percent of the overall energy mix by 2030, drawing criticism from campaigners who say nuclear plants will always pose a danger given the country's vulnerability to large earthquakes and tsunamis.
Abe, however, has called for reactors to be restarted, arguing that nuclear energy will help Japan achieve its carbon dioxide emissions targets and reduce its dependence on imported gas and oil.

Despite Abe and Sugawara's stances, "the government is unlikely to meet its target of 30 reactor restarts by 2030," due to local opposition and legal challenges, noted The Guardian.

The Telegraph reported Thursday that Koizumi "was a surprise addition" to Abe's cabinet, considering that the new minister "has expressed sharp differences with senior members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party since he was first elected in 2009 and supported a rival in the most recent election for party president."

Polls often indicate that Koizumi is considered a popular contender to serve as the next prime minister—and Abe's choice to appoint him to the cabinet, according to The Telegraph, is "seen as an effort to give a new generation of politicians an opportunity to learn the ropes of government."

Koizumi replaced Yoshiaki Harada, who made headlines around the world earlier this week. Responding to a projection from Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) that the utility will run out of storage space for contaminated groundwater around the Fukushima plant around the summer of 2022, Harada suggested during a news conference Tuesday that "the only option will be to drain it into the sea and dilute it."

As Common Dreams reported Tuesday, Harada's comments were swiftly condemned by critics of nuclear energy both in Japan and around the world as well as the neighboring government of South Korea.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

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A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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