Widening scandal at Japan's Kyushu nuclear firm

People shout slogans as they hold banners during an anti-nuclear power plant rally in front of the Tokyo office of Kyushu Electric Power Co, in Tokyo on July 8, 2011
Image caption The Kyushu e-mail scandal sparked protests last week

Dozens of workers at Japan's Kyushu Electric Company posed as citizens and lobbied for a power plant to be reopened, an internal inquiry says.

A whistleblower last week revealed that some 50 workers had sent e-mails to a televised debate backing a plan to restart Kyushu's Genkai plant.

But the firm's internal inquiry has found more than 100 employees may have been involved.

Two-thirds of Japan's 54 reactors have been idle since the 11 March quake.

The 9.0-magnitude tremor, and the massive tsunami it triggered, wrecked the Fukushima Daiichi plant and sparked a review of the country's nuclear industry.

All the nuclear plants that were closed for routine inspections were ordered to stay closed until their safety could be guaranteed.

The plant at Genkai, in the south, was one of the first plants scheduled to be reopened.

But the government's announcement last week of more rigorous tests across the board scuppered the firm's attempts to have the reactors restarted.

Popularity slump

The e-mail scandal has dealt a further blow to Kyushu Electric, and the firm's boss made a public apology last week.

A Kyushu employee told Japanese media how senior officials asked about 50 subordinates to send supportive messages to a televised meeting hosted by the government.

But on Tuesday, sources at the firm revealed that more Kyushu offices had been involved in the lobbying.

National public broadcaster NHK reported that the messages from Kyushu employees accounted for more than 30% of all messages sent in support of the Genkai plant being reopened.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Naoto Kan has announced that Japan needs to rethink its commitment to nuclear energy.

Before the Fukushima crisis, the country had targeted 53% of its electricity supply to be nuclear by 2030.

But Mr Kan said this commitment should be scrapped, and the reliance on nuclear power must be reduced.

The prime minister, who has been under immense pressure to resign, has slumped to his lowest level of popularity since he took office just over a year ago.

According to the latest opinion polls, just 16% of the population believe he is doing a good job.

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