KASHIWAZAKI, Niigata Pref. – Tokyo Electric Power Co. has admitted giving beer gift coupons to local and prefectural assembly members sympathetic to the construction and operation of nuclear plants.
The company is already at the center of a dispute over mishaps at its nuclear power plant in the neighboring villages of Kashiwazaki and Kariwa, in Niigata Prefecture.
The utility defended the gifts, saying the company was simply following the local custom of giving gifts to people who “one owes favors.” Critics say the practice smacks of collusion between big business and politicians.
The provision of the gifts came to light at a town meeting in Kashiwazaki on Friday, when Tepco President Tsunehisa Katsumata apologized to the residents of Kashiwazaki and Kariwa for covering up safety inspection data. The public outcry over the scandal forced the firm to shut down all 17 of its reactors across Japan.
Tepco organized the town meeting two days after the mayors of Kashiwazaki and Kariwa agreed to allow the utility to resume operations at the local nuclear plant.
According to Tepco officials, the utility gave 18 Kashiwazaki assembly members and 13 Kariwa assembly members 10 beer coupons each shortly after they were elected on April 27. On Saturday, it was learned that three members of the prefectural assembly also received such gifts.
Tokyo Electric officials said the utility gave similar gifts to elected legislators after the previous local election four years ago.
The Kashiwazaki assembly has 30 members and the Kariwa assembly 16.
The utility apparently gave the beer coupons to politicians who have not objected to nuclear power.
A Kashiwazaki assembly member who was elected for the first time in the April 27 election said two Tepco employees came to his office late at night after the results of the election were announced.
“They handed me an envelope. I gave it back to them because I thought there was no reason for me to accept it,” he said. “I assume they came to me because I didn’t make my position over nuclear power clear during my election campaign.”
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