A flotilla of tankers carrying liquefied natural gas have been parked in a maritime traffic jam off the coast of Spain in recent days, waiting to unload their precious cargo for Europe’s power grid. In Finland, where sweltering sauna baths are a national pastime, the government is urging friends and families to take saunas together to save energy.
Both efforts are emblematic of the measures Europe is taking to increase energy supplies and conserve fuel before a winter without Russian gas.
The tactic by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to weaponize energy against countries supporting Ukraine has produced a startling transformation in how Europe generates and saves power. Countries are banding together to buy, borrow and build additional power supplies, while pushing out major conservation programs that recall the response to the 1970s oil crisis.
forcing shutdowns at energy-intensive businesses, including the production of steel, chemical and glass. Companies are furloughing workers. Governments are issuing more debt to shield households and businesses from pain. There are growing projections that the energy crisis will tilt Europe into a recession next year.
went on a buying spree, has put so much gas into reserve that there’s no longer room to store the incoming fuel. Europe still gets a small supply — around 7 percent — of natural gas from Russia through pipelines running beneath Ukraine. If that flow is severed, several countries will be in a bind.
And some Europeans may decide that they aren’t so willing after all to make personal sacrifices for Ukraine as household energy bills spiral higher. Street protests against the soaring cost of living have broken out in Paris, Prague and elsewhere, chipping away at Europe’s united front for sanctions against Russia.
fill most of their gas reserves — enough to provide around three months of power — despite dwindling Russian flows. Unseasonably warm weather in Europe is delaying the need for early heating, so the stock may last longer than expected.
The consulting group Rystad Energy has calculated that Europe has enough gas stored to survive this winter unless it gets very cold, while natural gas prices have fallen to their lowest levels since June.
even tougher winter next year as natural gas stocks are used up and as new supplies to replace Russian gas, including increased shipments from the United States or Qatar, are slow to come online, the International Energy Agency said in its annual World Energy Outlook, released last week.
Europe’s activity appears to be accelerating a global transition toward cleaner technologies, the I.E.A. added, as countries respond to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by embracing hydrogen fuels, electric vehicles, heat pumps and other green energies.
But in the short term, countries will be burning more fossil fuels in response to the natural gas shortages.
gas fields in Groningen, which had been slated to be sealed because of earthquakes triggered by the extraction of the fuel.
Eleven countries, including Germany, Finland and Estonia, are now building or expanding a total of 18 offshore terminals to process liquid gas shipped in from other countries. Other projects in Latvia and Lithuania are under consideration.
Nuclear power is winning new supportin countries that had previously decided to abandon it, including Germany and Belgium. Finland is planning to extend the lifetime of one reactor, while Poland and Romania plan to build new nuclear power plants.
European Commission blueprint, are voluntary and rely on buy-ins from individuals and businesses whose utility bills may be subsidized by their governments.
Energy use dropped in September in several countries, although it is hard to know for sure if the cause was balmy weather, high prices or voluntary conservation efforts inspired by a sense of civic duty. But there are signs that businesses, organizations and the public are responding. In Sweden, for example, the Lund diocese said it planned to partially or fully close 150 out of 540 churches this winter to conserve energy.
Germany and France have issued sweeping guidance, which includes lowering heating in all homes, businesses and public buildings, using appliances at off-peak hours and unplugging electronic devices when not in use.
Denmark wants households to shun dryers and use clotheslines. Slovakia is urging citizens to use microwaves instead of stoves and brush their teeth with a single glass of water.
website.“Short showers,” wrote one homeowner; another announced: “18 solar panels coming to the roof in October.”
“In the coming winter, efforts to save electricity and schedule the consumption of electricity may be the key to avoiding electricity shortages,” Fingrad, the main grid operator, said.
Businesses are being asked to do even more, and most governments have set targets for retailers, manufacturers and offices to find ways to ratchet down their energy use by at least 10 percent in the coming months.
Governments, themselves huge users of energy, are reducing heating, curbing streetlight use and closing municipal swimming pools. In France, where the state operates a third of all buildings, the government plans to cut energy use by two terawatt-hours, the amount used by a midsize city.
Whether the campaigns succeed is far from clear, said Daniel Gros, director of the Centre for European Policy Studies, a European think tank. Because the recommendations are voluntary, there may be little incentive for people to follow suit — especially if governments are subsidizing energy bills.
In countries like Germany, where the government aimsto spend up to €200 billion to help households and businesses offset rising energy prices starting next year, skyrocketing gas prices are hitting consumers now. “That is useful in getting them to lower their energy use,” he said.But when countries fund a large part of the bill, “there is zero incentive to save on energy,” he said.
Tucked into the Inflation Reduction Act that President Biden signed last week is a major expansion of federal loan programs that could help the fight against climate change by channeling more money to clean energy and converting plants that run on fossil fuels to nuclear or renewable energy.
The law authorizes as much as $350 billion in additional federal loans and loan guarantees for energy and automotive projects and businesses. The money, which will be disbursed by the Energy Department, is in addition to the more well-known provisions of the law that offer incentives for the likes of electric cars, solar panels, batteries and heat pumps.
The aid could breathe life into futuristic technologies that banks might find too risky to lend to or into projects that are just short of the money they need to get going.
failure of Solyndra, a solar company that had borrowed about $500 million from the Energy Department, to criticize the Obama administration’s climate and energy policies.
Backers of the program have argued that despite defaults like Solyndra, the program has been sustainable overall. Of the $31 billion the department has disbursed, about 40 percent has been repaid and interest payments in the fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30, 2021, totaled $533 million — more money than the failed Solyndra loan.
The Energy Department’s loan programs began in 2005 under the George W. Bush administration but expanded significantly in the Obama era. The department provided a crucial loan that helped Tesla expand when it only sold expensive two-door electric sports cars; the company is now the world’s most valuable automaker.
Under the Trump administration, which played down the risks of climate change, the department’s loan office was much less active. The Biden team has been working to change that. Last month, the department said it planned to loan $2.5 billion to General Motors and LG Energy Solution to build electric-car battery factories in Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee.
complicate the qualification process.
Plug-In Hybrids: After falling behind all-electric cars, U.S. sales of plug-in hybrids have been surging. The high cost of electric cars and gasoline have given them an opening.
Car Crashes: Tesla and other automakers capture data from their vehicles to operate their products. Experts say the collected information could also improve road safety.
A Frustrating Hassle: The electric vehicle revolution is nearly here, but its arrival is being slowed by a fundamental problem: The chargers where people refuel these cars are often broken.
One beneficiary of the new loan money could be the Palisades Power Plant, a nuclear facility on Lake Michigan near Kalamazoo, Mich., that closed in May. The plant had struggled to compete in the PJM energy market, which serves homes and businesses in 13 states, including Michigan, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.
The Biden administration has made nuclear power a focal point of its efforts to eliminate carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector by 2035. The administration has offered billions of dollars to help existing facilities like the Diablo Canyon Power Plant — a nuclear operation on California’s coast that is set to close by the end of 2025 — stay open longer. It is also backing new technologies like small modular reactors that the industry has long said would be cheaper, safer and easier to build than conventional large nuclear reactors.
The owner of the Palisades facility, Holtec International, said it was reviewing the loan program and other opportunities for its own small reactors as well as bringing the shuttered plant back online.
“There are a number of hurdles to restarting the facility that would need to be bridged,” the company said in a statement, “but we will work with the state, federal government, and a yet to be identified third-party operator to see if this is a viable option.”
Rye Development, a company based in West Palm Beach, Fla., that is working on several projects in the Pacific Northwest.
geothermal power; old coal power plants as sites for large batteries; and old coal mines for solar farms. Such conversions could reduce the need to build projects on undeveloped land, which often takes longer because they require extensive environmental review and can face significant local opposition.
“We’re in a heap of trouble in siting the many millions of acres of solar we need,” Mr. Reicher said. “It’s six to 10 million acres of land we’ve got to find to site the projected build out of utility scale solar in the United States. That’s huge.”
Other developers are hoping the government will help finance technologies and business plans that are still in their infancy.
Timothy Latimer is the chief executive and co-founder of Fervo Energy, a Houston company that uses the same horizontal drilling techniques as oil and gas producers to develop geothermal energy. He said that his firm can produce clean energy 24 hours a day or produce more or less energy over the course of a day to balance out the intermittent nature of wind and solar power and spikes in demand.
Mr. Latimer claims that the techniques his firm has developed will lower the cost for geothermal power, which in many cases is more expensive than electricity generated from natural gas or solar panels. He has projects under development in Nevada, Utah, Idaho and California and said that the new loan authority could help the geothermal business expand much more quickly.
“It’s been the talk of the geothermal industry,” Mr. Latimer said. “I don’t think we were expecting good news a month ago, but we’re getting more ready for prime time. We have barely scratched the surface with the amount of geothermal that we can develop in the United States.”
For all the potential of the new law, critics say that a significant expansion of government loans and loan guarantees could invite more waste and fraud. In addition to Solyndra, the Energy Department has acknowledged that several solar projects that received its loans or loan guarantees have failed or never got off the ground.
A large nuclear plant under construction in Georgia, Vogtle, has also received $11.5 billion in federal loan guarantees. The plant has been widely criticized for years of delays and billions of dollars in cost overruns.
“Many of these projects are funded based on political whim rather than project quality,” said Gary Ackerman, founder and former executive director of the Western Power Trading Forum, a coalition of more than 100 utilities and other businesses that trade in energy markets. “That leads to many stranded assets that never live up to their promises and become examples of government waste.”
But Jamie Carlson, who was a senior adviser to the energy secretary during the Obama administration, said the department learned from its mistakes and developed a better approach to reviewing and approving loan applications. It also worked more closely with businesses seeking money to ensure that they were successful.
“It used to be this black box,” said Ms. Carlson, who is now an executive at SoftBank Energy. “You just sat in purgatory for like 18 months and sometimes up to two years.”
Ms. Carlson said the department’s loans serve a vital function because they can help technologies and companies that have demonstrated some commercial success but need more money to become financially viable. “It’s there to finance technologies that are proven but perhaps to banks that are perceived as more risky,” she said.
Energy executives said they were excited because more federal loans and loan guarantees could turbocharge their plans.
“The projects that can be done will go faster,” said William W. Funderburk Jr., a former commissioner at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power who now runs a water and energy company. “This is a tectonic plate shift for the industry — in a good way.”
Ms. Capito has argued that coal-fired power plants, which have been closing as the nation moves away from fossil fuel sources, could become sites for nuclear reactors. That would provide benefits for places like her home state, which has produced coal and relied on it as fuel for power generators.
“Ultimately, you get to a point where you need something that’s not weather dependent, something like nuclear to make the grid reliable,” said John Kotek, who ran the Office of Nuclear Energy during the Obama administration and is now vice president for policy at the Nuclear Energy Institute, a trade association. “There are other technologies that are candidates to play that role, but if you look at what is available today across the widest scale, that’s nuclear energy.”
The rising costs of other sources of power have made nuclear energy more competitive around the world, including in the United States, which has the largest fleet of nuclear plants of any country. They produce about 20 percent of the nation’s electricity and 50 percent of the clean energy.
The United States maintains 92 reactors, though a dozen have closed over the last decade — including, a month ago, the Palisades Nuclear Generating Station in Michigan, about 55 miles southwest of Grand Rapids.
The owner, Entergy, decided to shut the plant after a power-purchase agreement with a utility expired. Entergy said it could not find buyers for the plant, and decommissioning has gone too far to bring it back online, even with the money from the federal government.
Diablo Canyon is next on the decommissioning list, but Gov. Gavin Newsom has proposed extending its life. The plant, on California’s central coast, supplies almost 10 percent of the state’s electricity. Pacific Gas & Electric, which owns the plant, announced in 2016 that it planned to close it when its licenses expired, saying it would focus more on solar and wind power as renewable energy sources.
At the Siemens Gamesa factory in Aalborg, Denmark, where the next generation of offshore wind turbines is being built, workers are on their hands and knees inside a shallow, canoe-shaped pod that stretches the length of a football field. It is a mold used to produce one half of a single propeller blade. Guided by laser markings, the crew is lining the sides with panels of balsa wood.
The gargantuan blades offer a glimpse of the energy future that Europe is racing toward with sudden urgency. The invasion of Ukraine by Russia — the European Union’s largest supplier of natural gas and oil — has spurred governments to accelerate plans to reduce their dependence on climate-changing fossil fuels. Armed conflict has prompted policymaking pledges that the more distant threat of an uninhabitable planet has not.
Smoothly managing Europe’s energy switch was always going to be difficult. Now, as economies stagger back from the second year of the pandemic, Russia’s attack on Ukraine grinds on and energy prices soar, the painful trade-offs have crystallized like never before.
Moving investments away from oil, gas and coal to sustainable sources like wind and solar, limiting and taxing carbon emissions, and building a new energy infrastructure to transmit electricity are crucial to weaning Europe off fossil fuels. But they are all likely to raise costs during the transition, an extremely difficult pill for the public and politicians to swallow.
unwinding efforts to shut coal mines and stop drilling new oil and gas wells to replace Russian fuel and bring prices down.
proposed a carbon tax on imports from carbon-producing sectors like steel and cement.
And it has led the way in generating wind power, especially from ocean-based turbines. Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy, for example, has been instrumental in planting rows of colossal whirligigs at sea that can generate enough green energy to light up cities.
Europe, too, is on the verge of investing billions in hydrogen, potentially the multipurpose clean fuel of the future, which might be generated by wind turbines.
halted approval of Nord Stream 2, an $11 billion gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea that directly links Russia to northeastern Germany.
As Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, said when she announced a plan on March 8 to make Europe independent of Russian fossil fuels: “We simply cannot rely on a supplier who explicitly threatens us.” The proposal calls for member nations to reduce Russian natural gas imports by two-thirds by next winter and to end them altogether by 2027 — a very tall order.
This week, European Union leaders are again meeting to discuss the next phase of proposals, but deep divisions remain over how to manage the current price increases amid anxieties that Europe could face a double whammy of inflation and recession.
On Monday, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres warned that intense focus on quickly replacing Russian oil could mean that major economies “neglect or kneecap policies to cut fossil fuel use.”
price of palladium, used in automotive exhaust systems and mobile phones, has been soaring amid fears that Russia, the world’s largest exporter of the metal, could be cut off from global markets. The price of nickel, another key Russian export, has also been rising.
Financial turmoil. Global banks are bracing for the effects of sanctions intended to restrict Russia’s access to foreign capital and limit its ability to process payments in dollars, euros and other currencies crucial for trade. Banks are also on alert for retaliatory cyberattacks by Russia.
Mr. Rasmussen and other executives added that identifying suitable areas for wind turbines and obtaining permits required for construction take “far too long.” Challenges are based on worries that the vast arrays of turbines will interfere with fishing, obstruct naval exercises and blight views from summer houses.
To Kadri Simson, Europe’s commissioner for energy, renewable energy projects should be treated as an “overriding public interest,” and Europe should consider changing laws to facilitate them.
“We cannot talk about a renewables revolution if getting a permit for a wind farm takes seven years,” Ms. Simson said.
Still, environmental regulations and other rules relating to large infrastructure installations are usually the province of countries rather than European Union officials in Brussels.
And steadfast opposition from communities and industries invested in fossil fuels make it hard for political leaders to fast-track energy transition policies.
In Upper Silesia, Poland’s coal basin, bright yellow buses display signs that boast they run on 100 percent electric, courtesy of a grant from the European Union. But along the road, large billboards mounted before the invasion of Ukraine by state-owned utilities — erroneously — blame Brussels for 60 percent of the rise in energy prices.
Down in the Wujek coal mine, veterans worry if their jobs will last long enough for them to log the 25 years needed to retire with a lifelong pension. Closing mines not only threatens to devastate the economy, several miners said, but also a way of life built on generations of coal mining.
“Pushing through the climate policy forcefully may lead to a drastic decrease in the standard of living here,” said Mr. Kolorz at Solidarity’s headquarters in Katowice. “And when people do not have something to put on the plate, they can turn to extreme populism.”
Climate pressures are pushing at least some governments to consider steps they might not have before.
German officials have determined that it is too costly to keep the country’s last three remaining nuclear power generators online past the end of the year. But the quest for energy with lower emissions is leading to a revival of nuclear energy elsewhere.
Britain and France say they plan to invest in smaller nuclear reactors that can be produced in larger numbers to bring down costs.
Britain might even build a series of small nuclear fusion reactors, a promising but still unproven technology. Ian Chapman, chief executive of the U.K. Atomic Energy Authority, said every route to clean energy must be tried if there is to be any hope of reaching net zero emissions in three decades, the deadline for avoiding catastrophic climate change. “We’ve got to do everything we possibly can,” he said.
In the short term, much of what the European Union is proposing involves switching the source of fossil fuels, and, in particular, natural gas, from Russia to other suppliers like the United States, Qatar and Azerbaijan, and filling up storage facilities as a buffer. The risk is that Europe’s actions will further raise prices, which are already about five times higher than a year ago, in a market where supplies are short in part because companies are wary of investing in a fuel that the world ultimately wants to phase out.
Over the longer term, Europe and Britain seem likely to accelerate their world-leading rollout in renewable energy and other efforts to cut emissions despite the enormous costs and intense disruptions.
“The E.U. will almost certainly throw hundreds of billions of euros at this,” said Henning Gloystein, a director for energy and climate at Eurasia Group, a political risk firm. “Once the trains have left the station, they can’t be reversed.”
The fortune of Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates exceeds the size of Morocco’s annual economy, combines the value of Ford, Twitter and Marriott International and is triple the endowment of Harvard. While few know how their wealth will be divided in the divorce, one thing is clear: breaking it up can’t be easy.
Mr. Gates built one of the great fortunes in human history when he founded Microsoft in 1975 with Paul Allen. The Gateses’ net worth is estimated to be more than $124 billion, and includes assets as varied as trophy real estate, public company stocks and rare artifacts.
There’s a big stake in the luxury Four Seasons hotel chain. There are hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland and ranch land, including Buffalo Bill’s historic Wyoming ranch. There are billions of dollars’ worth of shares in companies like AutoNation and Waste Management. There’s a beachfront mansion in Southern California. And one of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks.
“The amount of money and the diversity of assets that are involved in this divorce boggles the imagination,” said David Aronson, a lawyer who has represented wealthy clients in divorce cases. “There have rarely been cases that are even close to this in size.”
2019 divorce between the Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and his now ex-wife, the novelist and philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, was bigger. Mr. Bezos had an estimated fortune of $137 billion, though mostly in Amazon stock, and Ms. Scott kept 4 percent of Amazon’s shares, worth $36 billion at the time.
But Mr. Gates has for decades been diversifying his holdings; he owns just 1.3 percent of Microsoft. Instead, his stock portfolio includes stakes in dozens of publicly traded companies. He is the largest private owner of farmland in the country, according to The Land Report. In addition to the Four Seasons, he has stakes in other luxury hotels and a company that caters to private jet owners. His real estate portfolio includes one of the largest houses in the country and several equestrian facilities. He owns stakes in a clean energy investment fund and a nuclear energy start-up.
Forbes, or $146 billion, according to the research firm Wealth-X. Including the Gates Foundation’s endowment and the Gates personal fortune, Cascade most likely oversees assets that put it on par or beyond some of the world’s biggest hedge funds in size.
Mr. Larson operates Cascade with an obsessive level of secrecy, going to great lengths to cloak the firm’s transactions so that they can’t easily be traced back to the Gateses. In a 1999 interview with Fortune magazine, Mr. Larson said he chose the name “Cascade” because it was a generic-sounding name in the Pacific Northwest.
that questions about the future of the Gates Foundation immediately arose following news of the divorce. The foundation directs billions to 135 countries to help fight poverty and disease. As of 2019, it had given away nearly $55 billion. (In 2006, Mr. Buffett pledged $31 billion of his fortune to the Gates Foundation, greatly increasing its grant making.)
Since he stepped down from day-to-day operations at Microsoft in 2008, Mr. Gates has devoted much of his time to the foundation. He also runs Gates Ventures, a firm that invests in companies working on climate change and other issues. Over the decades, Mr. Gates shed the image of a ruthless tech executive battling the United States government on antitrust to be viewed as a global do-gooder. And he appears to be keenly aware of the stark contrast between the scale of his wealth and his role as a philanthropist. “I’ve been disproportionately rewarded for the work I’ve done — while many others who work just as hard struggle to get by,” he acknowledged in a year-end blog post from 2019.
told The New York Times last year. “There’s just none.”
Iran has started enriching its uranium supply to 60 percent purity — the closest the country has ever come to the level needed for a weapon — in response to the sabotage of an Iranian nuclear site last weekend linked to Israel.
The move by Iran, reported Friday on state media, made good on threats Iranian officials had announced after the sabotage, which have cast a new cloud over talks to save the 2015 deal limiting Iran’s nuclear abilities in exchange for sanctions relief.
President Hassan Rouhani of Iran has gone further, boasting as those talks resumed in Vienna that his scientists could easily enrich uranium to 90 percent purity — weapons-grade fuel — although he insisted, as Iranian leaders have repeatedly, that Iran “is never seeking to make an atomic bomb.”
So what is the significance of uranium’s purity, which is at the heart of the accord that negotiators are trying to rescue? And why is Iran making these claims? Some basic questions and answers:
What is the goal of uranium enrichment?
Uranium contains a rare radioactive isotope, called U-235, that can be used to power nuclear reactors at low enrichment levels and to fuel nuclear bombs at much higher levels. The goal of uranium enrichment is to raise the percentage levels of U-235, which is often done through the use of centrifuges — machines that spin a form of unrefined uranium at high speeds.
becomes far easier and requires fewer centrifuges as it moves into the higher purities. In other words, getting to 90 percent purity is much easier starting from 20 percent, and easier still starting from 60 percent.
How much enriched uranium does Iran now possess?
According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the nuclear-monitoring arm of the United Nations, Iran as of February had amassed 2,967.8 kilograms of uranium — roughly 14 times the limit under the nuclear accord and theoretically enough to power about three atomic bombs if refined to weapons grade. The stockpile includes 17.6 kilograms enriched to 20 percent — also forbidden under the accord until the year 2030.
Did the sabotage last weekend set back Iran’s ability to enrich uranium?
Almost certainly yes. While Iranian officials have given conflicting accounts of the extent of centrifuge damage at Natanz, the sabotaged enrichment complex, at least one has said that several thousand of the machines were destroyed.But Iran also possesses a second known enrichment site, an underground facility called Fordow, that houses roughly 1,000 centrifuges, and some were deployed early this year to enrich uranium to 20 percent.
Mehrzad Boroujerdi, an Iran expert who is a professor and director of the School of Public and International Affairs at Virginia Tech. “It is getting punched left and right, without the ability to do damage to the other side.”
With the 60 percent enrichment, Mr. Boroujerdi said, Iran’s leaders “are trying to resort to any aces they may have.”
Ten years after a devastating earthquake and tsunami led to a nuclear meltdown in northern Japan, residents are readjusting to places that feel familiar and hostile at once.
FUKUSHIMA, Japan — After an earthquake and tsunami pummeled a nuclear plant about 12 miles from their home, Tomoko Kobayashi and her husband joined the evacuation and left their Dalmatian behind, expecting they would return home in a few days.
It ended up being five years. Even now — a decade after those deadly natural disasters on March 11, 2011, set off a catastrophic nuclear meltdown — the Japanese government has not fully reopened villages and towns within the original 12-mile evacuation zone around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. And even if it did, many former residents have no plans to return.
Some of those who did return figured that coming home was worth the residual radiation risk. Others, like Ms. Kobayashi, 68, had businesses to restart.
“We had reasons to come back and the means to do so,” said Ms. Kobayashi, who manages a guesthouse. “It made sense — to an extent.”
one million tons of contaminated water into the sea has riled local fishermen, and cases against the government and the plant operator are winding through the country’s highest courts. The issue of nuclear power remains highly fraught.
And for miles around the plant, there are physical reminders of an accident that forced the exodus of about 164,000 people.
crashed ashore, flooding his auto body shop in the industrial city of Koriyama.
It can feel that way in the town of Namie, where bags of radioactive waste have piled up.
new schools, roads, public housing and other infrastructure in an effort to lure former residents back.
Some residents in their 60s and beyond see the appeal. It can be hard for them to imagine living anywhere else.
“They want to be in their hometown,” said Tsunao Kato, 71, who reopened his third-generation barbershop even before its running water had been restored. “They want to die here.”
One upside is that the threat of lingering radiation feels less immediate than that of the coronavirus, said Mr. Kato, whose shop is in the city of Minami Soma. In that sense, living amid the reminders of nuclear disaster — in towns where streetlights illuminate empty intersections — is a welcome sort of social distancing.
At a Futaba nursery school, umbrellas have sat untouched for a decade, protecting no one from the rain.
Nearby, a collapsed house is still waiting for a demolition crew.
Mr. Kato said that while he was happy to be back, he struggled to balance a desire to stay with the knowledge that living somewhere else would probably be safer.
“Logic and emotion can’t mesh,” he said, “like oil and water.”
Like Mr. Kato, Ms. Kobayashi had been running a family business, in her case a guesthouse, when the magnitude-9 earthquake struck. The guesthouse in Minami Soma has been in her family for generations, and she took it over in 2001 when her mother retired.
The guesthouse sustained significant water damage from the tsunami. But Ms. Kobayashi’s family restored and reopened it. (Their Dalmatian, who survived the nuclear accident, died just before the renovation was completed.)
They did not expect a surge of tourists, she said, but hoped to serve people who wanted to return to the area and had nowhere to stay.
“There’s no town left,” she said. “If you come back, you have to rebuild.”
Hikari Hida reported from Tokyo, and Mike Ives from Hong Kong.
SUTTSU, Japan — It seemed like easy money. The Japanese government was conducting a study of potential locations for storing spent nuclear fuel — a review of old geological maps and research papers about local plate tectonics. It put out a call for localities to volunteer. Participating would commit them to nothing.
Haruo Kataoka, the mayor of an ailing fishing town on the northern island of Hokkaido, put up his hand. His town, Suttsu, could use the money. What could go wrong?
The answer, he quickly learned, was a lot. A resident threw a firebomb at his home. Others threatened to recall the town council. A former prime minister traveled six hours from Tokyo to denounce the plan. The town, which spends much of the year in a snowbound hush, was enveloped in a media storm.
There are few places on earth eager to host a nuclear waste dump. Only Finland and Sweden have settled on permanent repositories for the dregs of their atomic energy programs. But the furor in Suttsu speaks to the deep anxiety that remains in Japan 10 years after an immense earthquake and tsunami caused the meltdown of three nuclear reactors in Fukushima Prefecture, the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.
promise that the country made late last year to be carbon-neutral by 2050.
Even before the Fukushima calamity, which led to three explosions and a release of radiation that forced the evacuation of 150,000 people, ambivalence toward nuclear energy was deeply ingrained in Japan. The country is haunted by the hundreds of thousands killed by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II.
Still, most Japanese had come to terms with nuclear power, viewing it as an inevitable part of the energy mix for a resource-poor country that must import about 90 percent of the materials it needs to generate electricity.
government’s plan to release a million tons of treated radioactive water from the site into the ocean.
The government says it would make small releases over 30 years with no impact on human health. Fishermen in Fukushima say that the plan would wreck their long journey toward recovery.
“We have this potentially dangerous technology and we still rely on it and we need to have a long-range view on nuclear waste and decommissioning, so we better think about a much more democratic way to handle the cost associated with it,” Mr. Miyazaki said in an interview.
Critics of nuclear power in Japan frequently point to the decades of failure to find a solution to the waste problem as an argument against restarting the country’s existing reactors, much less building new ones.
In November, former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi took his campaign against nuclear energy to Suttsu at the invitation of local activists. Speaking in the town’s gymnasium, he said that after visiting Finland’s underground waste storage site — a facility much like the one proposed by the Japanese government — he had decided that Japan’s active geology would make it impossible to find a workable location.
Japanese reactors have generated more than 18,000 tons of spent fuel over the last half-century. A small proportion of that has been turned into glass — through a process known as vitrification — and sheathed in giant metal canisters.
Almost 2,500 of the huge radioactive tubes are sitting in temporary facilities in Aomori and Ibaraki Prefectures, waiting to be lowered 1,000 feet beneath the earth’s surface into vast underground vaults. There, they would spend millenniums shedding their toxic burden.
It will be decades — if ever — before a site is selected and the project begins in earnest. The Nuclear Waste Management Organization of Japan, known as NUMO and represented by a cartoon mole cautiously sticking its snout out of a hole, is in charge of finding a final resting place.
Long before he took NUMO up on its offer to conduct a study in his town, Mr. Kataoka, the Suttsu mayor, had taken an entrepreneurial view toward government subsidies.
Suttsu has a population of just under 2,900, spread thinly around the rocky rim of a deep cerulean bay, where fishing boats prowl for mackerel and squid. Beginning in 1999, with government-supported loans, Mr. Kataoka championed an initiative to install a stand of towering wind turbines along the shore.
Many in the town were initially opposed, he said during an interview in his office, but the project has delivered handsome returns. The town has spent the profits from selling electricity to pay off debts. Townspeople have free access to a heated pool, a golf course and a modest ski slope with a rope tow. Next to a sleek community center is a free day care for the few residents with children.
The facilities are not unusual for small-town Japan. Many localities have tried to stave off decline by spending large sums on white elephant projects. In Suttsu, the effect has been limited. The town is shrinking, and in early March, snow was piled to the eaves of newly built but shuttered stores along the main street.
Mr. Kataoka nominated Suttsu for the NUMO program, he said, out of a sense of responsibility to the nation. The subsidies, he admitted, are a nice bonus. But many in Suttsu doubt the intentions of both Mr. Kataoka and the government. The town, they argue, does not need the money. And they question why he made the decision without public consultation.
At a meeting of the town council on Monday, residents expressed concern that once the process had begun, it would quickly gather momentum and become impossible to stop.
The plan has fiercely divided the town. Reporters have flooded in, putting the discord on national display. A sign in the hotel by the harbor makes it clear that the staff will not accept interviews.
In October, an angry resident threw a Molotov cocktail at Mr. Kataoka’s home. It broke a window, but he smothered it without any further damage. The perpetrator was arrested and is now out on bail. He has apologized, Mr. Kataoka said.
The mayor remains bewildered by the aggressive response. Mr. Katatoka insists that the literature review is not a fait accompli and that the townspeople will have the final say.
In October, he will run for a sixth term. He wants voters to support his proposal, but whatever the outcome, he hopes the town can move forward together.
Losing the election would be bad, he said, but “the saddest part of all this has been losing the town’s trust.”