Shareholders and politicians on Thursday urged the nation’s top utilities to exit nuclear power as the central government moves to restart reactors idled by public safety fears in the wake of the triple core meltdown in Fukushima Prefecture in 2011.
Despite a number of antinuclear proposals pushed at the shareholders’ meetings, however, officials from the utilities said this week they were eager to restart nuclear power plants as soon as possible after their businesses were staggered by the halt of all commercial nuclear reactors in the country after 3/11.
Nine utilities with nuclear plants, including the biggest, Tokyo Electric Power Co., which manages the meltdown-hit Fukushima No. 1 power station — held their general shareholders’ meetings at a time when a nuclear power plant in the southwest is preparing go back online this summer for the first time under tighter post-Fukushima safety requirements.
Japan, which relies heavily on imported energy, invested heavily in nuclear power for decades, making withdrawal from what some believe to be a cheaper, less-polluting power source a difficult proposition to swallow.
At Tepco’s meeting, Katsutaka Idogawa, former mayor of the town of Futaba — which has been rendered uninhabitable by radiation contamination — said pulling out of atomic power is “the only way for the company to survive.”
Tepco, as the utility is known, has “forced people who were living peacefully into a situation like hell . . . I propose that Tepco break away from nuclear power,” the mayor said. Futaba co-hosts the Fukushima No. 1 plant.
Officials from Kansai Electric Power Co., which held its shareholders meeting in Kobe for the first time in many years, faced a barrage of tough questions about nuclear power, its decision to raise prices, and its ¥148.3 billion net loss in fiscal 2014.
Kepco faced sharp criticism for hiking household rates 8.36 percent at the beginning of the month because, as it acknowledges, its 11 commercial reactors are still idle, forcing it to rely more on imported fossil fuels. That was a sore point Thursday with politicians representing cities that hold Kepco shares.
“It’s regrettable the rise in rates is putting strong pressure on people’s lifestyles. Kepco’s efforts at management efficiency are still lacking,” said Kobe Mayor Kizo Hisamoto. Kobe owns about 3 percent of Kepco’s stock.
Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, one of the utility’s harshest critics, was not present Thursday but submitted a motion together with the city of Kyoto calling on Kepco to get out of nuclear power. The motion was voted down. Osaka owns about 9.4 percent of Kepco’s stock.
Kepco’s heavy losses and its plans to restart reactor Nos. 3 and 4 at the Takahama plant in Fukui Prefecture — despite a provisional injunction from the Fukui District Court in April — prompted calls from many shareholders for management, especially Chairman Shosuke Mori and President Makoto Yagi, to resign. But they and 14 other senior executives were re-elected.
“Nuclear power is part of the national energy policy, an important baseload. For reasons of energy security, economics, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, we need to restart the reactors,” Yagi said at a news conference in Osaka on Thursday afternoon.
Shareholders expressed worries about how Kepco will adjust to the full deregulation of the electricity market next year, which is expected bring new, more flexible competition for electricity service at a time when the company is financially strapped.
In Fukuoka, shareholders at Kyushu Electric Power Co., which is looking to restart its Sendai nuclear plant in Kagoshima Prefecture in August, proposed that the president be dismissed, saying his stance of continuing nuclear power has hurt earnings.
But President Michiaki Uriu told the meeting that the utility “aims to restart nuclear reactors as soon as possible on the premise that securing safety is the priority.”
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to reactivate reactors that meet safety regulations beefed-up by the new nuclear regulator that was set up after the Fukushima crisis. The majority of the public, however, remains opposed.
The government plans to make nuclear energy account for 20 percent to 22 percent of the country’s total electricity supply in 2030, compared with around 30 percent before.