Tokyo Electric Power Co. led utilities in rallying around a nuclear future, defying growing public opposition to atomic energy amid the Fukushima No. 1 plant accident.
Shareholders of Tepco voted to continue with nuclear power Tuesday at the company’s first annual meeting since the crisis at its Fukushima plant wiped about $36 billion off its market value. Kansai Electric Power Co. on Thrusday also reinforced the status quo, with shareholders rejecting a motion to halt reactors.
The votes in the wake of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that caused meltdowns at the Fukushima complex show Japan’s reliance on atomic energy even as opposition grows. Shareholders of Tohoku Electric Power Co. and other regional energy providers also voted down proposals against nuclear power.
“Everybody in Japan has a stake in the country’s energy future, even if they don’t own a stake in a power company,” said Jeff Kingston, head of Temple University’s Asian studies program at its Tokyo campus. The utilities are “trying as desperately as possible to circle the wagons, marginalize public opinion and proceed with business as usual,” he said.
Kepco, which depends on atomic energy for 43 percent of its power output and is Tepco’s biggest domestic rival, faced comments from shareholders for almost five hours, its longest annual meeting.
Osaka Mayor Kunio Hiramatsu, whose city is the utility’s biggest shareholder, called on the company to develop alternatives to nuclear energy.
“With the stability of our electricity supply in question, governments and citizens need to discuss adopting energy policies that sustain economic growth,” Hiramatsu said. “We should cooperate with industry in these efforts.”
Tepco President Toshio Nishizawa, who took over after the shareholders’ meeting, plans to hold onto assets related to its power business and sell recreation facilities and shareholdings in its affiliates, he said in a June 16 interview.
“Each asset needs to be sold at the best time and in the best way,” said Nishizawa, 60, adding that the utility will rely on government funding for compensation payments to victims.
Tepco plans to sell its “noncore” assets within three years, Nishizawa said Wednsday at his first news conference since he was confirmed as president.
As part of the fundraising efforts, Tepco may package the building housing its headquarters in central Tokyo into securities for sale, the Tokyo Shimbun reported Thursday, citing Nishizawa. The building may be valued at ¥39 billion, the newspaper said.
Liquefied natural gas-fired plants will become the main source of electricity generation for Tepco, the Nikkei newspaper reported Thursday, also citing Nishizawa.
The utility plans to join an Australian project that will supply 20 percent of its LNG requirements, he told the Nikkei, which didn’t identify the venture.
Tepco annually imports about 20 million metric tons of LNG, or about 28 percent of Japan’s total purchases of the fuel, according to data compiled by the company and the Finance Ministry.
Kepco, which supplies Japan’s second-largest commercial region, joined Tepco in June in asking users to cut consumption this summer by 15 percent to avert blackouts after the disaster led to the closure of some nuclear plants and delayed resumption of others shut for maintenance.
Nuclear power accounted for almost a third of Japan’s energy requirements before the disaster.
“I was against the proposal to withdraw from nuclear power,” Takaaki Matsui, a 27-year-old engineer and Tepco shareholder, said after attending the company’s annual meeting Wednesday. “Tepco needs nuclear power to keep supply and demand balanced.”
The votes of support came a week after Katsuhiko Ishibashi, a seismology professor at Kobe University, called for the closure of the nation’s 54 atomic reactors because, he claims, none of them can be guaranteed to withstand strong earthquakes.
Ishibashi earlier warned of a catastrophic nuclear disaster after Tepco’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa station was damaged by an earthquake in 2007, leading to radiation leaks.
Opposition to nuclear power is increasing in Japan amid the current crisis.
The Nikkei newspaper reported this week that 69 percent of respondents to a telephone poll oppose the restart of nuclear reactors currently shut for maintenance.
About 47 percent of 893 people polled from June 24-26 want to reduce the number of atomic plants, an increase of 5 percent from a month earlier, the newspaper said.
The Fukushima nuclear disaster displaced 50,000 households after radiation leaked into the air, soil and sea. Tepco may face as much as ¥11 trillion in compensation claims, according to Bank of America Corp.’s Merrill Lynch unit.
The utility posted a loss of ¥1.25 trillion for the year that ended March 31, including a ¥1.1 trillion charge related to costs from the accident.
Tepco, whose shares have plunged 85 percent since the March disasters, had a record 9,309 shareholders attend Tuesday’s meeting, compared with the company’s expectations of 5,600. It was also the longest meeting on record, the company said.
A group of shareholders that has been proposing a motion to stop Tepco from using atomic energy for the past two decades tried again to rally support for withdrawing from nuclear energy, but the proposal was voted down.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.