Japan’s TEPCO meets wrath of shareholders
Angry TEPCO shareholders on Tuesday slammed the company for its handling of the nation’s worst ever atomic accident after the March quake-tsunami, amid calls for the firm to abandon nuclear power.
About 100 police officers were deployed around the Prince Park Tower Hotel where Tokyo Electric Power Co. held its first shareholder meeting since the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami battered its Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.
TEPCO shares have lost around 85 percent of their value since a raging wall of water crippled cooling systems at the facility, with three reactors suffering meltdowns and the plant spewing radiation into the environment.
“It would be worth harakiri if we were in a different era,” said a shareholder who referred to a form of Samurai ritual suicide when asked if TEPCO’s response to the accident had been adequate.
TEPCO has been accused of ignoring warnings about the vulnerability to a tsunami of the coastal plant, dithering after the accident and initially declaring damage at the facility to be limited before admitting the contrary.
The government has put forward a scheme to ensure TEPCO can meet massive compensation, but worries remain for the firm’s future under the sheer weight of trillions of yen in costs as it battles to stabilise the plant.
A record 9,309 shareholders attended Tuesday’s fiery six-hour meeting, the longest in the company’s history, fuming at the company’s handling of the disaster with many demanding it scrap nuclear energy.
“I am so furious with the company,” said shareholder Furukawa, who declined to give her first name. “They never changed after repeated problems,” she said referring to TEPCO’s track record of safety problems.
Around 85,000 people have been evacuated from their homes, farms and businesses in a 20-kilometre (12-mile) zone around the radiation-spewing plant, with evacuation pockets also further afield.
“I would like to tell TEPCO that we no longer need nuclear power. I never expected a triple A-rated company would end up like this. I think the accident is a man-made disaster,” said Torao Ogawa, 60-year-old shareholder.
TEPCO officials were jeered during the meeting in which they again apologised for the accident, as 402 shareholders called on the company to abandon nuclear power in a proposal rejected by a majority vote.
The firm has a total of 933,031 shareholders, of whom 746,927 have voting rights. The 17-member board was also re-elected during the meeting.
A group of protesters from Fukushima gathered in front of the hotel. Haruna Takida, 33, left Koriyama city, Fukushima prefecture, before dawn to take part in the rally.
“The accident deprived children of their right to live a healthy life, young people of hope to work in Fukushima, and elderly people of what they had built in their lives,” she said.
One weeping shareholder stood up and demanded TEPCO chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata be dismissed from the meeting, to rounds of applause.
“We left our funds to you for management. Fukushima, Japan and the world can’t go back to what we used to be before the accident. I can’t believe in you,” she said. “You should have resigned right after March 11.”
Many Japanese households purchased TEPCO shares as long-term assets expecting stable and relatively high dividend yields, given its position as a power supplier for Tokyo and the Kanto region — an area that contributes more than a third of the nation’s gross domestic product.
But TEPCO is unlikely to pay dividends or make profits for years as it undertakes mammoth restructuring, battles to contain radiation, and pays out compensation claims that could reach 11 trillion yen ($136 billion) according to some estimates.
In May it reported a $15 billion annual net loss for the year ended March, the biggest ever for a non-financial Japanese firm, on costs related to world’s worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.
Four of six reactors at the Fukushima plant have been crippled, and the company is struggling with efforts to bring the crisis under full control by a self-imposed deadline of January 2012.
Ratings agencies Moody’s last week downgraded TEPCO to junk status, citing the volatile situation at the plant and uncertainty surrounding the level of state support for the power company.