FUKUSHIMA DAI-ICHI NUCLEAR POWER PLANT, Japan (AP) — Newly installed Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the tsunami-devastated Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant on Saturday as his government reconsiders plans to eventually phase out the use of atomic energy.
Donning protective gear, Abe took a bus tour of the plant — site of the worst nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster — and greeted workers at its emergency operations center in Okuma town on Japan's northeastern coast.
A massive earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, swamped parts of the Fukushima plant, disabling backup systems and triggering radiation-spewing meltdowns that forced tens of thousands of people to flee. The disaster triggered massive protests against atomic energy and widespread public distrust in nuclear plant operators and regulators.
Japan's nuclear reactors were suspended for checks after the Fukushima meltdowns, and only two of the country's 50 reactors are currently online.
During his visit to the Fukushima plant's operations center, Abe urged employees of the plant's embattled owner, Tokyo Electric Power Co., to persevere as the company works to clean up radiation released by the accident and safely close the plant permanently.
"Your courage is what brings hope to Japan," Abe told workers at the center. "Yet, we still face a great challenge — an unprecedented challenge in human history to working towards decommissioning the plant in such scale."
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