Nearly 70 percent of Japanese oppose the restart of nuclear reactors halted for maintenance work, a poll showed yesterday, even though keeping them shut could mean power blackouts this summer and higher electricity bills.
Public fears about nuclear power have grown following the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, where workers are still struggling to control radiation leaks from meltdowns after reactor cooling systems were knocked out by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
The loss of generating capacity caused by the closure of Fukushima and other plants, exacerbated by the refusal of local governments to sanction the restart of other reactors shut for routine maintenance, has raised the prospect of blackouts when power demand peaks in the summer.
Thirty-five of Japan’s 54 -commercial reactors are currently shut, including the six at Fukushima, 240km north of Tokyo.
The poll by the Nikkei Shimbun also showed that 47 percent want to cut the number of nuclear plants, up 5 percentage points from the previous poll last month.
Meanwhile, 60 percent of voters want Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan to resign by the end of August, the Nikkei poll showed, the latest sign of mounting pressure on the unpopular leader to keep a pledge to quit.
Kan, under fire for his response to the quake and resulting nuclear crisis, pledged this month to step down to quell a rebellion in his Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) but declined to say when he would go.
Kan has said he wants to stay to enact a bill enabling the government to issue bonds to fund about 40 percent of a US$1 trillion budget for the year from April 1, a small extra budget to help with recovery from the tsunami, and measures to promote renewable energy sources.
Opposition parties, which control parliament’s upper house and can block bills other than treaties and budgets, look set to help pass the small extra budget.
However, they want changes to the DPJ’s spending plans in return for backing the bond issuance bill and are cautious about the renewable energy bill, which businesses fear will raise electricity costs.
Six DPJ party leaders, including Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano and Party Secretary-General Katsuya Okada, agreed in a meeting on Sunday that Kan should resign during the current parliament session, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported, but it was not clear how they intended to force Kan out if he refuses to stand down.