Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant

Japan firms want safety guaranteed before nuclear restarts

Nearly three-quarters of Japanese firms want safety guaranteed before idled nuclear reactors in Japan are restarted.

Japan is set to have no nuclear power within weeks for the first time in over 40 years following last year's crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, which crushed public trust in nuclear power and prevented the restart of reactors shut for regular maintenance checks.

The poll, taken alongside the monthly Reuters Tankan company sentiment survey, showed only 15 per cent of firms want an early restart for idled reactors, while 72 per cent said safety should be the key priority – despite the impact the loss of power could have on their businesses.

Sixty-five per cent of firms think the loss of all nuclear power would hurt their businesses, however, according to the survey of 400 big companies, of which 234 responded.

Nuclear power accounted for about 30 per cent of Japan's electricity demand before the Fukushima crisis, and the government is eager to avoid a power crunch during the summer when demand peaks.

Trade Minister Yukio Edano this week signalled two reactors that idled after the Fukushima disaster would not be back online before the last one currently operating is shut down. 

In a further sign of trouble for Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, 58 per cent of respondents said conditions were not yet ripe for a hike in sales taxes.

Noda has been struggling to win support for a plan to double the 5 per cent tax by late 2015 to fund bulging welfare costs in a fast-ageing society.

Of those wary about tax hikes, 78 per cent called for sweeping administrative and political reforms, while 66 per cent urged policymakers to present a clear outline for the future of social security.

The poll underlined public distrust of policymakers who have failed for years to cut wasteful spending and curb public debt now twice the size of Japan's $5tr economy – the worst among industrial countries.

The debate on raising the sales tax, one of the lowest among major economies, has long been politically touchy.

The last consumption tax increase in 1997 was blamed by some for triggering a recession that led to a long period of deflation.

The Reuters Tankan showed that manufacturers' mood worsened slightly in April after a sharp rebound the previous month, reflecting rekindled worries about Europe's debt crisis and concerns the yen could rally again.

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