Unlike Japan, which has been forced to conserve energy, Lemonick noted that developed—and now developing—countries are unwilling to sacrifice to create a low-carbon economy in order to fight climate change. In the US, “we’re happy to do something about it — as long as that something doesn’t involve giving up relatively cheap plentiful electricity and our Constitutional right to drive long distances on relatively cheap, plentiful gas,” he chided.

Meanwhile, US cable television, which filled the airwaves with Fukushima coverage a year ago (often with anchors who showed little to no understanding of nuclear power and terms such as meltdown), appeared to pay limited attention to the anniversary on the day of. CNN midday shows focused on tax apps and a film about bullying, while the evening news shows focused on a new tragedy capturing the headlines—a rogue American soldier on a killing rampage in Afghanistan—as well as the familiar 2012 storylines of presidential election politics and the state of the economy. (Anderson Cooper did feature the Fukushima accident on his Friday night show, including film from an undercover writer with a hidden camera detailing risky worker conditions in the plant cleanup.)

As is so often the case with natural disasters, images overwhelmed words in the anniversary coverage. One of the most poignant images was a Reuters photo of two Japanese evacuees wearing white protective suits and masks while returning briefly to the ghost town of Okuma to mourn victims of the deadly earthquake and tsunami.

The haunting image, which accompanied a post on Time’s Global Spin blog, was a vivid reminder that a mandatory 20-kilometer evacuation zone remains off limits indefinitely because of radioactive contamination surrounding the disabled Fukushima plant. The post noted that many of the relocated citizens long to return home, but “nobody knows for sure whether or not Okuma — population 11,500 before last March — will ever be inhabited again.”

A Canadian television website showed the Okuma mourners laying flowers at the somber ceremony honoring their lost loved ones. The Guardian’s website carried a moving video of the Okuma ceremony, including a moment of silence observed across Japan, interrupted only by the sound of press cameras snapping photos of the event.

Elsewhere, there were the familiar images of anti-nuclear protestors across the globe, from a candlelight vigil in Tokyo in which participants formed a human chain around Japan’s parliament building, to the UK, where numerous protests were held at nuclear power plant sites.

The question is whether the pessimistic tone of the anniversary coverage was an echo of those mournful and angry images or something more organic. Pundits and the media can have short memories, and one day the techno-optimism might return. Only more time will tell whether improvements in nuclear safety and technology will help fuel a turnaround.

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Cristine Russell is a CJR contributing editor and the president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing and a senior fellow at Harvard's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. She is a former Shorenstein Center fellow and Washington Post reporter.