Shareholders hammer Tepco over nuclear fiasco

Management gets six-hour earful on losses, tsunami failings


Staff Writer

Tokyo Electric Power Co. faced a six-hour barrage of heavy flak from shareholders Tuesday at their annual meeting, with management blasted over how it has handled the world’s worst nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

Many investors demanded to know why Tepco failed to foresee the tsunami risk at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, which was knocked out by giant waves after the March 11 quake. Fuel rods have melted at three of the plant’s reactors.

The quake and tsunami claimed more than 23,000 lives and devastated farms and ports along the Tohoku coast, and the radiation-spewing reactors have caused widespread evacuations.

“Why didn’t you take adequate tsunami precautions? Were you just leaning back in your chair?” one shareholder asked Akio Komori, one of the executives who formerly ran the stricken nuclear plant.

Another investor shouted that Tepco’s executives should jump into their stricken reactors and die to take the blame for the fiasco.

The utility apologized repeatedly throughout the six-hour confrontation for causing the accident and said it is doing its utmost to secure the safety of workers and the environment around the crippled plant based on laws and expert advice.

The gathering — attended by a record 9,300 shareholders — grew turbulent as investors fired endless questions, then shouted down and booed management.

Once viewed as a safe investment, Tepco’s stock price was ¥2,121 on March 11. It had plummeted to ¥317 as of Tuesday morning.

Although it was voted down, 402 shareholders submitted a motion demanding that Tepco not build any more atomic plants and decommission its existing plants step by step.

“I was living about 20 km from the plant and had to evacuate . . . my life was thrown into disarray in an instant,” said one of the shareholders who submitted the proposal.

Many also demanded that management be held responsible, with some saying executives should relinquish their salaries and Tepco employees’ corporate pension benefits should be slashed to help the company generate its compensation costs.

“Do you think you are qualified to receive a salary and pension?” one shareholder asked.

Tepco said the company will consider pension cuts but didn’t give a clear answer regarding worker salary cuts.

The utility plans to cut ¥500 billion in operating costs this fiscal year.

Shareholders were also eager to know Tepco’s nuclear plans down the road.

“The first thing we have to do is get the accident under control. Then we’ll have to see the outcome of discussions by outside committees investigating the causes of the accident, and gauge the country’s energy policy going forward. And we also need to talk to residents around our nuclear plants,” Tepco President Masataka Shimizu said.