With the pull of a lever, control rods were lifted Tuesday from the reactor core at a plant in southern Japan, ending a ban on nuclear power following meltdowns at Fukushima in the northeast that forced tens of thousands of people to leave their homes, most of them for good.

Crowded, energy-scarce Japan remains committed to nuclear power despite the March 2011 accident at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant and its messy aftermath, for economic, environmental and political reasons.

Polls show that most Japanese don’t want nuclear power, but public opinion has been trumped by leaders who say keeping the country’s 43 workable reactors offline forever would be too damaging economically.

Though two other nuclear reactors briefly resumed operations after the Fukushima meltdowns, Japan has gone completely without nuclear power for nearly two years under tighter new regulations. Reactors remained idle pending safety inspections.

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