Tepco chairman, president announce resignations over nuclear coverups

Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Monday that President Nobuya Minami and Chairman Hiroshi Araki will resign over reported coverups of damage at the utility’s nuclear power plants.

Minami will resign by mid-October, but Araki will leave at the end of the month.

Tepco advisers Gaishi Hiraiwa, 88, and Sho Nasu, 77, as well as 63-year-old Vice President Sadaaki Enomoto, will also step down at the end of the month, he said.

Minami, 66, said that he would recommend installing another Tepco vice president, 62-year-old Tsunehisa Katsumata, as his successor. Katsumata is heading the internal inspection into the coverups.

Hiraiwa, Nasu and Araki will give up the posts they hold at the Japan Business Federation (Nippon Keidanren), Tepco said, while Minami is expected to resign as chairman of the Federation of Electric Power Companies and vice chairman of the Japan Association of Corporate Executives (Keizai Doyukai).

Minami had said earlier that he would decide whether to resign his Tepco post after the completion of the in-house probe. The investigation team plans to release the results of the probe in mid-September.

No names were given regarding a potential successor to 71-year-old Araki.

Workers employed during the 1980s and 1990s at three nuclear plants at the center of the coverups have told internal investigators that they instructed contracted technicians to falsify reports to authorities.

“Our internal probe so far leaves us with no doubt that our employees were indeed involved in the coverups,” Minami said.

“It is deeply regrettable that we have seriously damaged public trust, and I would like to apologize to the public and local residents (of areas close to the reactors).”

Earlier Monday, company sources said about 100 Tepco employees are suspected of being involved. Some of the damage, which earlier reports laid to wear and tear, has reportedly been secretly repaired.

The earliest falsification occurred in 1986, and the coverups are suspected to have continued through the mid-1990s, the sources said.

Minami said, however, that judging from the circumstances and the sequence of various events, the falsification cases may have continued after 1995.

Tepco said that punitive measures for other employees and officials involved in the case would be handed out after all the facts are known.

Also on Monday, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, operating under the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, began inspecting the three plants in question. The inspections will probably continue through Wednesday.

Tepco’s head office may also be searched.

The coverups surfaced last week, with allegations of at least 29 cases of falsified reports on cracks or signs of cracks in devices in the core structure of 13 reactors at the utility’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant in Niigata Prefecture and the No. 1 and No. 2 Fukushima atomic plants in Fukushima Prefecture.

According to the sources, Tepco has been conducting an internal probe, in which it plans to question the roughly 100 workers, including senior and executive-level employees who worked at the plants in the 1980s and 1990s. It has already held hearings with between 30 and 40 of those people, the sources said.

Among them, workers who were directly responsible for operations at the plants admitted that reports had been falsified, the sources said.

A former worker at the No. 1 Fukushima plant told investigators that he asked the outside contractor, General Electric International Inc., in 1986 to falsify records when it found cracks on the shroud of the No. 2 reactor. Nuclear reactors must be inspected periodically under the law.

Tepco outsourced its inspections to GEII, the Japanese unit of General Electric Co. of the United States.

A former worker at the No. 1 reactor of Fukushima No. 1 plant admitted a similar deception in inspection records on the reactor’s steam drier in 1989.

In July 2000, a GEII employee notified the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, the predecessor of METI, about the 1989 case, prompting the nuclear safety agency to look into the case.

The revelation of the decade-long deception at the three plants has forced Tepco to summon the heads of the plants and executives from that period, the sources said. The utility plans to compile a report on its probe by mid-September, they added.

Tepco officials said Monday the company will halt operations of four reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 and No. 2 plants to check the facilities, reversing its earlier plan to halt operations only at the No. 1 reactor of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant.

The company has already secretly repaired some of the damage, according to some reports, but at least eight reactors in the three plants are operating without any repairs having been done.

The five reactors will be closed down in succession in order to not disrupt power, company officials said.

The remaining three reactors will continue operating for the time being as the damage is in peripheral facilities and less likely to cause serious harm, the officials claimed.