TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's promise that the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant was "under control" in his successful pitch three years ago for Tokyo to host the 2020 Olympic Games "was a lie", former premier Junichiro Koizumi said on Wednesday.
Koizumi, one of Japan's most popular premiers during his 2001-2006 term, became an outspoken critic of nuclear energy after a March 2011 earthquake and tsunami triggered meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co's (Tepco) Fukushima Daiichi plant, the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.
Abe gave the assurances about safety at the Fukushima plant in his September 2013 speech to the International Olympic Committee to allay concerns about awarding the Games to Tokyo. The comment met with considerable criticism at the time.
"Mr. Abe's 'under control' remark, that was a lie," Koizumi, now 74 and his unruly mane of hair turned white, told a news conference where he repeated his opposition to nuclear power.
"It is not under control," Koizumi added, citing as an example Tepco's widely questioned efforts to build the world’s biggest "ice wall" to keep groundwater from flowing into the basements of the damaged reactors and getting contaminated.
"They keep saying they can do it, but they can't," Koizumi said. Experts say handling the nearly million tonnes of radioactive water stored in tanks on the Fukushima site is one of the biggest challenges.
Koizumi also said he was "ashamed" that he had believed experts who assured him that nuclear power was cheap, clean and safe and that resource-poor Japan had to rely on nuclear energy.
After the Fukushima crisis, Koizumi said, "I studied the process, reality and history of the introduction of nuclear power and became ashamed of myself for believing such lies."
All Japan's nuclear plants - which had supplied about 30 percent of its electricity - were closed after the Fukushima disaster and utilities have struggled to get running again in the face of a skeptical public. Only three are operating now.
Abe's government has set a target for nuclear power to supply a fifth of energy generation by 2030.
The meltdowns in three Fukushima reactors spewed radiation over a wide area of the countryside, contaminating water, food and air. More than 160,000 people were evacuated from nearby towns.
(Reporting by Linda Sieg and Megumi Lim; Editing by Nick Macfie)