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Abe pledges to boost tourism in tsunami-ravaged region, maintains nuclear policy stance

TOKYO, March 10 (Xinhua)-- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday pledged to boost the number of foreign visitors to the disaster-hit region of Tohoku in the nation's northeast, devastated by an earthquake-triggered tsunami five years ago, while maintaining that safety remained a priority for the restarting of the nation's idled nuclear reactors.

Speaking on the eve of the 5th anniversary of the Great East Japan earthquake, which struck east of the Oshika Peninsula of the Tohoku region of the country on March 11, 2011, and, together with an ensuing tsunami killed nearly 16,000 people, injured more than 6,000 and left some 2,500 still unaccounted for, Abe told a press conference that his government will work towards tripling the numbers of tourists visiting the region.

According to the latest reports, many part of the northeast are still reeling in the wake of the multiple disasters, which also include Fukushima Prefecture and the ongoing nuclear crisis there, initially sparked by the massive earthquake-triggered tsunami knocking out the key cooling functions at the Daiichi nuclear power complex leading to multiple core meltdown in its reactors, resulting in the worst commercial nuclear disaster in history, but Abe said his government will work towards creating much needed revenue for the battered region by upping visits by travelers three-fold to 1.5 million by 2020.

Tokyo will host the 2020 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games, and concerns have been voiced by officials from within the Tohoku region, that spans some of the worst-hit prefectures in Japan's northeast, including Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate Prefectures, that vital funds earmarked for essential revitalization work, including public housing projects to rehouse those still living in temporary shelters after the disasters, may be further delayed as priority is give to Games-related construction projects, despite significant delays to restoration work in the northeast prolonging still displaced locals'suffering there.

Following the nation's nerves being jangled by a Japanese district court a day earlier issuing Kansai Electric Power Co. with an injunction to stop the utility from operating two nuclear reactors at the Takahama plant, which were among the first to be rebooted in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima crisis following enhanced safety checks, Abe said Thursday that safety remained a priority for the government.

The Otsu District Court gave the order to the utility citing "problematic points" and "questions remaining" over the power company's emergency response plans should a major accident occur such as a sizable tsunami, such as the one that struck the Daiichi plant in Fukushima.

The district court said that the utility's evacuation measures and countermeasures to such an occurrence remained equivocal and ruled that the Takahama No. 3 and No. 4 reactors should be prevented from operating.

Kansai Electric Power Co. shut down the Takahama No. 3 reactor, which was only brought back on line in January this year, following the No. 4 reactor already being placed in cold shutdown on March 2 after an emergency alarm was triggered at the plant. The utility, prior to the injunction, was planning to bring the No. 4 reactor back online this month.

Abe maintained however that the government still plans to bring the nation's idled reactors back online, with strict safety standards in mind. He said the plants were essential to the nation's power needs as Japan is lacking in natural resources.

The government's energy policy aims to see 20 percent of the nation's power being produced by nuclear means by 2030, as import costs for fossil fuels for turbine generators has and continues to stretch the state bank balance, and has raised environmental concerns, as such power stations struggle to make up for supply deficits in resource-poor Japan.

But concerns, most recently in the form of protests from locals in Takahama on Thursday, and rising fears over the safety of the nation's aged reactors, as well over the ongoing situation in Fukushima, have seen pressure stepped up on the government to scrap the use of nuclear power in favor of safer, renewable energy sources.

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