Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has abundant political capital and should declare an end to nuclear power, as the public mood for such a decision couldn’t be better, predecessor Junichiro Koizumi said Tuesday.

“Nobody has had more favorable conditions to achieve a nuclear-free option than Abe,” the popular ex-prime minister said in a rare news conference at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo. “For first time in a long time, the Japanese are ready to support a project and I want him to use his strong political clout.”

Tuesday’s event was Koizumi’s first official press conference since the Mainichi Shimbun reported in late August his call for Japan to immediately cease its reliance on atomic energy.

Over 350 reporters and club members attended the 90-minute speech and question-and-answer session, when Koizumi demonstrated his trademark no-nonsense style.

Koizumi, 71, said Abe is in a better position to accomplish a nuclear-free Japan, unlike when he dissolved the Lower House in 2005 to achieve the postal system privatization. Back then, Koizumi faced fierce opposition from both his Liberal Democratic Party and the opposition camp.

“Now the opposition camp advocates a nuclear-free society, and only the LDP opposes it. But I think 50 percent of LDP lawmakers favor scrapping atomic energy,” said Koizumi. “LDP lawmakers cannot voice opposition to nuclear power because Abe is promoting it. If Abe decides to scrap nuclear power, no one in the party will protest.”

While Koizumi was prime minister, he, too, supported nuclear power. But he said the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake made him realize it was wrong to believe atomic energy is a source of clean and cheap energy, because nuclear power is uncontrollable.

He also noted Japan has no viable way to process or dispose of radioactive waste.

Koizumi was especially critical of an Oct. 8 editorial by the pro-nuclear Yomiuri Shimbun, which criticized his stance by saying it is the fault of politicians that Japan cannot find sites to dispose of nuclear waste.

“We have not been able to find nuclear waste disposal sites for the last 10 years,” Koizumi said. “It is too optimistic and irresponsible for them to say that politicians should be responsible for not having a clear prospect (for radioactive waste sites) especially after the earthquake.”

Koizumi has reportedly not met with Abe to talk about this issue. But Abe, who served as his chief Cabinet secretary and subsequent successor, has rejected going nuclear-free, saying it is irresponsible to chart such a course when energy costs are surging.

Koizumi may be retired but he still commands popularity. A recent Asahi Shimbun poll found 60 percent of respondents support his views, while 25 percent oppose them.

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