TOKYO (Reuters) - Former Japanese premier Junichiro Koizumi on Tuesday urged his old deputy, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, to abandon nuclear power, adding to pressure on the government to re-consider its position on unpopular atomic energy.
Koizumi was one of Japan's most popular prime ministers before he stepped down in 2006 and his comments carry influence among the general public and within the ruling bloc, led by his old Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).
Nuclear power has been contentious since a power plant in the Fukushima region north of Tokyo was hit by a big earthquake and tsunami in 2011, triggering explosions, meltdowns and the world's worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.
"If the LDP decided on abandoning nuclear power, all the parties would be for the policy as the opposition is already supporting it," Koizumi told a news conference.
"What a magnificent and fantastic project it would be. He can get to use his power to utilize nature as resources. There are no other prime ministers who are as lucky as he is."
Koizumi supported nuclear power when he was prime minister and his calls in recent months for the country to give it up are a headache for the government.
Abe aims to reduce nuclear power as much as possible but believes it would be irresponsible to give it up straight away because that would threaten a stable power supply.
Koizumi said if money used to build nuclear plants was spent on renewable energy, it would spur a range of technological development.
More than two and a half years after the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, the operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co, is struggling to stop radiation leaks.
Koizumi said Abe could determine Japan's position on the issue.
"Even within the LDP, there are quite a few lawmakers who at heart are leaning towards the zero-nuclear policy. A prime minister's power is enormous. If he proposed the zero-nuclear policy, no objections would emerge."
Asked about Koizumi's call, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga indicated the government intended stick to its policy of gradually reducing nuclear power's ratio in the country's energy mix.
"The government believes it is extremely important to administer its energy policy in a responsible manner," Suga said.
Abe has been riding high in opinion polls due to the success of his economic policy. But energy policy could prove to be his Achilles' heel as a survey by the Asahi Shimbun daily showed on Tuesday that 60 percent of those polled supported Koizumi's zero-nuclear proposal.
(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Robert Birsel)