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Japanese premier defends nuclear power's necessity on eve of Fukushima anniversary

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said Japan "cannot do without" nuclear power ahead of the fifth anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami. Japan's leader also pledged to bolster decontamination efforts in irradiated areas.

Abe pledged Thursday to accelerate reconstruction efforts in tsunami-hit northern Japan and the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant ahead of the 2020 Olympic Games.

But in the wake of

an unprecedented court ruling that ordered two reactors to remain offline

due to safety fears, he argued that Japan needed nuclear power to feed its energy needs.

"Our resource-poor country cannot do without nuclear power to secure the stability of energy supply while considering what makes economic sense and the issue of climate change," Abe told a press conference.

Public anger over the

meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi reactor

and skepticism in general toward authorities in the wake of the 9.0 earthquake that struck March 11, 2011, triggering a massive tsunami - remains intense.

The tsunami swept ashore leaving about 18,500 people dead or missing - and sparking the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl - when reactors melted down at the Fukushima power plant that's also left swathes of land irradiated for generations.

The institutionally cozy ties between politicians, bureaucrats and the nuclear industry has left unresolved calls for reform and

widespread distrust among members of the public

who continue to be told that nuclear power is safe.

"Ties between the bureaucracy and industry are still very strong - it's a legacy of government-led development when the country was underdeveloped (after World War II)," Muneyuki Shindo, an honorary politics professor at Chiba University, told the AFP news agency.

Japan Okuma tanks for radioactive water

On the eve of the fifth anniversary of the disaster, Abe promises to rush decontamination work in irradiated areas near the plant to allow more residents to safely return home.

Abe promises revitalization in five-year plan

But on Thursday, Japan's rightist business-friendly premier doubled down and promised improvements to the damaged region ahead of the 2020 Olympics.

"We will designate the next five years as a reconstruction revitalization period," Abe said. "We plan to secure an ample budget to launch support measures to help disaster-hit areas stand on their feet again."

He said he wants to triple the foreign visitors to Japan's tsunami-hit northeastern region of Tohoku to 1.5 million in 2020 from the current level so that tourists can see the region's reconstruction "through their own eyes."

A national ceremony will be held Friday to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the disaster to be attended by Abe, the emperor and empress and other dignitaries.

Official investigations laid the blame on plant operator Tokyo Electric Power -

three former executives are facing a criminal trial

- and Fukushima has been labeled a "man-made" disaster.

Already some changes are evident; a number of tsunami-struck communities have been moved to higher ground, while bigger seawalls are going up along the coast and higher barriers are being erected to protect at-risk reactors.

Scientists note that timing is important as the country experiences about 20 percent of the world's biggest quakes annually, and recently has been more seismically active than usual.

jar/jil (AP, AFP)

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