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Poll: Japanese opposition to nuke power stronger

Japanese oppose nuclear power more strongly than they did while the tsunami-damaged Fukushima plant was still in crisis a year ago, according to a poll that found widespread dismay with the government's handling of that disaster and the ongoing recovery.

The survey released Tuesday by the Washington-based Pew Research Center said 70 percent of Japanese believe the country should reduce its reliance on nuclear energy, up from 44 percent last year.

Before the disaster, Japan relied on nuclear power for about a third of its energy needs. All 50 of Japan's usable nuclear reactors have been shut down as of last month due to routine inspections and safety concerns, straining the country's ability to meet power demands.

The survey found that 80 percent of Japanese are dissatisfied with the government's handling of the nuclear crisis, caused by a massive earthquake and tsunami on March 11 that damaged the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, which spewed radiation into the surrounding air, soil and water.

Overall, the poll showed widespread pessimism: Some 78 percent of the people are unhappy with the direction of the country, and 93 percent perceive the economy to be in a bad state.

That contrasts with hopes last year that Japan might turn the tragedy into something positive: A year ago, 59 percent believed the disasters would make Japan stronger. Now 39 percent hold that view, and 47 percent believe it has made the country weaker.

Health concerns about radiation exposure have eased only slightly, with 52 percent of people saying they are worried that they or someone in their family may have been exposed to radiation, while 47 percent are unconcerned. In April 2011, when the previous poll was conducted, 59 percent were worried about radiation exposure.

Japanese are much more wary of nuclear power now than they were even as the disaster was unfolding. A year ago, Japanese were divided in their views on atomic energy: 44 percent believed it should reduced, while 46 percent held that it should be maintained.

The public has a very low opinion of the government and the media. Only 12 percent see the central government as having a positive influence on the country, while Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, who took office last September, is viewed positively by only 30 percent of the people. The media, meanwhile, is seen as having a positive impact by 34 percent, a negative by 63 percent.

In the wake of the disaster, distrust of the government and mainstream media has grown amid the perception that authorities were not being forthright with the public — and that the media outlets weren't doing enough to investigate or hold authorities accountable.

The Japanese military, or Self-Defense Force, was the only major institution in the poll viewed positively — by 89 percent of respondents. The SDF was widely viewed as helpful and effective in its immediate relief efforts after the tsunami. Its personnel dug through mud and debris to search for bodies, delivered food and fuel to survivors and even built makeshift hot baths at some evacuation centers.

The poll, based on 700 telephone interviews between March 20 and April 12, has a margin of error of 4.1 percent. It is part of the Pew Research Center's annual Global Attitude Project, which this year conducted polls in 21 countries.

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Follow Malcolm Foster on Twitter at www.twitter.com/mjfosterap