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"There is only one way to eliminate such accidents, which is to get rid of all nuclear power plants." The earthquake and tsunami killed more than 15,000 people, whereas the multiple meltdowns at Fukushima have not caused any fatalities to date and are "unlikely" to cause any detectable health effects, such as increased cancers, according to the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation.

Gruff and dark-haired, Kan is a circumspect man, with a history of admitting mistakes and showing impatience with those who do not.

In Japan, where Kan is currently a leader of his party's effort to promote alternative energy sources, his antinuclear campaign enjoys wide popular support, and none of the country’s 50 nuclear reactors are currently operating.

But the current prime minister, Shinzo Abe of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), supports restarting the nuclear plants, influenced in part by the tremendous cost of importing natural gas and coal to generate the electricity once produced by fission.

Japan already has the Monju fast-breeder reactor for recycling used nuclear fuel instead of building such permanent storage, but the facility has been plagued by fires, shutdowns and other delays.

The Fukushima disaster has already affected the course of nuclear power worldwide, slowing the growth of a technology championed as a solution to large-scale electricity generation with much less greenhouse gas pollution than the currently dominant coal-fired power plant, although other factors, such as the increasing supply of cheap natural gas, also have diminished enthusiasm.

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