TOKYO, June 14 (Reuters) - Nearly three-fourths of Japanese voters want to see a gradual phase-out of nuclear power, a newspaper poll showed on Tuesday, the latest sign of concerns about atomic safety as the country struggles with the world’s worst nuclear crisis in 25 years.
The survey by the Asahi newspaper, however, also showed that 51 percent agreed reactors now off-line for inspections should be restarted if they met government safety standards, compared with 35 percent who were opposed, although the percentage opposed was higher in regions hosting reactors.
The survey coincided with Monday’s referendum in Italy where almost 95 percent of votes cast favoured blocking a nuclear power revival in the earthquake-prone country.
Three months after a massive earthquake and tsunami, workers are trying to stabilise reactors at Tokyo Electric Power Co’s Fukushima Daiichi plant. Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated from the area around the plant.
Trade ministry officials have warned that all of Japan’s 54 nuclear reactors might be shut down by next April if communities objected to operating plants due to safety concerns.
But experts say the economic costs are too high to pull the plug on all the plants despite the public’s concerns. Before the quake, nuclear power supplied about 30 percent of Japan’s electricity needs.
Unpopular Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who has promised to step down in coming months after coming under fire for his handling of the nuclear crisis, has pledged to overhaul the regulation of nuclear power and announced new safety steps.
Kan also pledged last month to boost renewable energy to at least 20 percent of Japan’s electricity supply in the 2020s, about double the current level, and aims to cut the costs of solar power generation by one-sixth by 2030.
Sixty-five percent of respondents to the Asahi survey said they were willing to accept higher electricity rates to promote renewable energy sources, compared with 19 percent who were not. (Reporting by Linda Sieg; Editing by Chris Gallagher)