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Thousands in Japan anti-nuclear protest two years after Fukushima

Anti-nuclear protesters attend a rally in Tokyo March 10, 2013, a day before the second-year anniversary of the March 11, 2011 earthquake an
Anti-nuclear protesters attend a rally in Tokyo March 10, 2013, a day before the second-year anniversary of the March 11, 2011 earthquake an

By Mari Saito and Sophie Knight

TOKYO (Reuters) - Thousands of protesters marched in the Japanese capital on Sunday calling on the government to shun nuclear power, a day before the second anniversary of an earthquake and tsunami that triggered the world's worst atomic disaster in 25 years.

Japan is still coming to terms with the disaster that ravaged its northeastern region two years ago - the earthquake and tsunami killed more than 15,000 people. Several thousand people are still unaccounted for.

"It's becoming more and more important for us to protest. I do this for my children, we can't leave the mess of nuclear power behind to them," said a 32-year old mother of two marching in front of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, chanting "Stop nuclear! Protect our children!".

"People and the media are starting to forget Fukushima and what happened there," said the woman.

The nuclear meltdown at Tokyo Electric Power's (Tepco) Fukushima Daiichi plant forced 160,000 people from their homes and many of them will never return. It also sparked an unprecedented protest movement against nuclear power.

Tepco faces a decades-long effort to decontaminate and decommission the wrecked nuclear plant after the worst atomic disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.

All of Japan's 50 reactors were gradually shut down after the Fukushima disaster and all but two of them remain idle.

But the sweeping December victory of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which long supported nuclear power and fostered ties between politicians, bureaucrats and utilities, is a worry for nuclear power's opponents.

A recent survey showed about 70 percent of Japanese want to phase out nuclear power eventually. An equal number backs Abe, who wants to restart off-line reactors if they meet new safety standards.

Nobuko Kameyama, a 67-year old retiree, handing out anti-nuclear leaflets at a train station, said many people were pre-occupied with a stagnant economy while progress made towards phasing out nuclear under the previous government was lost when it lost power.

"The movement seems to have gotten quieter because we had to go back to the drawing board when the LDP got voted back in," Kameyama said.

(Editing by Aaron Sheldrick and Robert Birsel)

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