TOKYO (Reuters) - Nearly 70 percent of Japanese oppose the restart of nuclear reactors halted for maintenance work, a poll showed Monday, even though keeping them shut could mean power blackouts this summer and higher electricity bills.
Public fears about nuclear power have grown due to the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co's Fukushima Daiichi plant, where workers have been struggling to control radiation leaks from meltdowns after reactor cooling systems were knocked out by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
Tepco moved closer to resolving the crisis Monday with the start of a system to cool damaged reactors that could also help avoid dumping highly contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean.
The loss of generating capacity due to 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, 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo.
Before the crisis, nuclear power provided about 30 percent of Japan's electricity, a figure that fell last month to about 20 percent.
The poll by the Nikkei business daily also showed that 47 percent want to cut the number of nuclear plants, up 5 percentage points from the previous poll in May.
Media reported Monday that Sekinari Nii, the governor of Yamaguchi prefecture in western Japan, opposed a plan by Chugoku Electric Power Co to build a nuclear plant in a cove at Kaminoseki on the Seto Inland Sea.
The utility's permit to carry out a landfill in the cove expires in October 2012 and it needs the governor's permission to continue.
But Nii said he would refuse until the central government comes up with a new energy policy, adding that Chugoku's safety measures for the proposed plant were also unclear.
"We will continue to do our best to apply thorough safety measures at Kaminoseki, taking into account what happened at Fukushima, and construct a nuclear plant that residents can feel secure about," a Chugoku Electric Power spokesman told Reuters.
Many local residents oppose the Kaminoseki plant, which the utility had aimed to have in commercial operation by March 2018.
(Reporting by Shinichi Saoshiro and Risa Maeda; Editing by Michael Watson)