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Japan PM tours still-troubled Fukushima nuclear plant

TOKYO -- Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda toured Japan's crippled Fukushima power plant Sunday to demonstrate his resolve to end the nuclear disaster there, amid strong public skepticism about his energy policy.

Noda, who reshuffled his cabinet last week before a possible snap general election, encouraged the plant's crews in their dangerous work to contain its molten reactors, according to TV footage and media reports.

“I believe that Japan has survived as we see it now thanks to your dedicated work,” the premier told about a dozen people, who stayed on to work inside the plant right after a massive quake and tsunami ravaged it on March 11, 2011.

“As a Japanese, I want to thank you for exerting yourself in a frightening and demanding environment,” he said at an accommodation facility for workers just outside the 20-kilometer (12.5 mile) no-go zone surrounding the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

The quake and tsunami knocked out the plant's cooling systems, sparking the world's worst nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

The plant, 220 km northeast of Tokyo, has continued releasing radiation into the environment, forcing tens of thousands of residents to evacuate the Fukushima region.

“I believe that your work in various places on the frontline has enabled us to embark on efforts to decommission the reactor,” said the premier, clad in workman's clothing.

After changing into white protective gear, Noda later traveled to the plant and inspected a reactor where workers were planning to remove spent nuclear fuel from a storage pool.

He was also due to observe operations to decontaminate communities near the plant.

It was Noda's second visit to the plant since he took office in September last year.

The government declared last month it was aiming to eliminate nuclear power from the country's energy mix by 2040.

But his trade minister said immediately afterwards that two partially-built reactors could be finished and put to work, leading the public to cast doubt on the government's determination.

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Clad in protective outfit, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, right, stands on the rooftop of the Unit 4 reactor building during his inspection of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Okuma, Fukushima prefecture, Japan, Sunday, Oct. 7. (AP)

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