TOKYO (Reuters) - More than two-thirds of Japanese support Prime Minister Naoto Kan's call to do away with nuclear power, a media poll showed on Sunday, underscoring growing opposition to atomic energy in the wake of the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.
Earlier this month the unpopular Kan said the Fukushima crisis, triggered by the massive March 11 earthquake and tsunami, had convinced him that Japan should wean itself from nuclear power and eventually have no atomic plants.
The Fukushima complex is still leaking radiation four months after the disaster and the public is growing increasingly anxious about the safety of other plants across quake-prone Japan.
A poll conducted this weekend by Kyodo news agency showed 70.3 percent support for Kan's call to wean the county off atomic energy, which accounted for nearly a third of the country's electricity output before the crisis.
Japanese utilities are operating 17 of the 54 reactors that had been available before the March 11 earthquake. All of those could be shut down by next May for maintenance if public worries over safety continue to stall reactor restarts.
In a development that could add to those worries, Kyodo separately reported that a report by researchers showed a reactor unit at Kyushu Electric Power's Genkai plant in southwestern Japan may have a faulty pressure vessel.
The study, led by Tokyo University professor Hiromitsu Ino, revealed disparities in the quality of steel used for the vessel at the No. 1 reactor, signaling the possibility of mistakes in the manufacturing process, Kyodo reported.
Kyodo quoted Ino as saying the reactor, which began operations in 1975, should be halted until its safety can be verified.
No one at Kyushu Electric could be immediately reached for comment.
The No. 3 reactor at Genkai had been considered a likely candidate to become the first to come back online from a routine maintenance shutdown since the March 11 disaster.
But all restarts have been put on hold following the central government's surprise announcement earlier this month of "stress tests" to gauge reactors' resilience to unexpectedly severe events.
The discovery of data errors in a prior Kyushu Electric report on the quake-resistance of the No. 3 reactor could further delay restarts.
Prompted by that error, Japan's atomic safety agency on Friday ordered all nuclear power firms to check or rerun quake-resistance assessments.
It is unclear how much longer Kan, under intense pressure to quit amid criticism over his handling of the crisis, will be around to push forward his views on nuclear policy.
The Kyodo poll also showed the approval rating for Kan's cabinet had slipped to a record low of 17.1 percent, from 23.3 percent in the previous poll in late June, while two-thirds of respondents said they wanted the premier to quit by the end of August.
(Reporting by Nathan Layne; Editing by Daniel Magnowski)