By Kiyoshi Takenaka
TOKYO (Reuters) - Tokyo's consumption of nuclear power is "selfish" and unsustainable since the Japanese capital hosts no nuclear reactors, former prime minister Morihiro Hosokawa said on Tuesday, questioning the government's energy policy.
Hosokawa, who is running for Tokyo governor on a plank to scrap nuclear power, is billing the February 9 vote as a referendum on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's efforts to restart reactors halted after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
"Tokyo is shoving nuclear power plants and nuclear waste to other regions, while enjoying the convenience (of electricity) as a big consumer," said Hosokawa, 76, who is backed by charismatic former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi.
"I wonder how much longer this selfish behavior can go on," he told a news conference.
A Tokyo victory by a candidate backed by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party is important for Abe after suffering a setback this month when the challenger supported by the party lost the race to be mayor of the Okinawa city of Nago.
Hosokawa, who trails the LDP-backed former health minister Yoichi Masuzoe in recent media polls, also criticized Abe's foreign policy, which he described as "pugnacious diplomacy" that could hurt ties with neighbors.
"One thing I'm concerned about is whether pugnacious diplomacy will help the festival of peace to be held smoothly," Hosokawa said, referring to the 2020 Olympic Games that Japan will host.
Japan has been locked in a bitter territorial dispute with China over a group of tiny, uninhabited East China Sea islets called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.
Tensions have soared in recent months after China's establishment of an air defense identification zone covering a large swathe of the East China Sea including the islands, and Abe's visit in December to a controversial Tokyo shrine seen by critics as a symbol of Japan past military aggression.
China and South Korea have repeatedly expressed anger in the past over Japanese politicians' visits to Yasukuni Shrine, where Japanese leaders convicted as war criminals by an Allied tribunal after World War Two are honored along with those who died in battle.
Hosokawa lags Masuzoe, who left the LDP after it was ousted in 2009, in a voter support survey, the Asahi Shimbun daily said on Monday, without giving specific figures.
Hosokawa gets solid support from those who want nuclear power scrapped now, but Masuzoe is most popular among those who want Japan to give it up soon and those who want to retain nuclear power generation, the survey showed.
"A top leader's task is to set an overall direction," Hosokawa said. "If a decision is made now to put an end to nuclear energy, many companies will stampede to natural energy so as not to fall behind the trend, making natural energy grow at an astonishing rate."
(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)