December 5, 2023

Head of Japanese Utility Steps Down After Nuclear Crisis

At a news conference in Tokyo, the outgoing president, Masataka Shimizu, also said that the company had decided to decommission the four most heavily damaged of the plant’s six reactors and to cancel plans to add two more.

But his choice of an insider to succeed him could prompt further criticism of the troubled utility in the wake of the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, which was ravaged in the March 11 earthquake and tsunami and continues to release radiation.

Mr. Shimizu, 66, will step down and be replaced by Toshio Nishizawa, 60, a senior executive at the company, Tokyo Electric said.

“I take responsibility for this accident, which has undermined trust in nuclear safety and brought much grief and fear to society,” Mr. Shimizu said. “Whatever happens, there must be change,” he said.

The crisis has raised serious questions over cozy ties between Japan’s nuclear industry and the regulators charged with overseeing safety at the country’s 55 nuclear reactors. It has also prompted a rethinking of Japan’s energy policy, which had sought to raise the country’s dependence on nuclear energy to one-half of its electricity needs, from the current one-third.

The Japanese government has also been saddled with the task of aiding Tokyo Electric as it starts to pay out what is expected to be trillions of yen in compensation claims even as it continues desperate efforts to stabilize the Fukushima plant.

The Japanese government has announced a plan that could tap public money to save Tokyo Electric from financial collapse and also help it compensate victims of the disaster. But the plan would require the company to eventually repay in full all the money owed to victims of the accident. The company had hoped that payouts might be capped.

Speaking in a grave monotone, Mr. Shimizu said that Tokyo Electric had booked a net loss of 1.25 trillion yen, or $15.3 billion, for the fiscal year that ended in March, hit by the punishing costs of bringing the Fukushima Daiichi plant under control.

The company booked a special loss of 426 billion yen for costs associated with cooling down the reactors at Fukushima Daiichi, he said, and another 207 billion yen for shutting down the four most heavily damaged reactors.

But its losses so far do not include the compensation claims related to the accident. Tens of thousands of people have been forced to relocate from the area around the power plant, while nearby farmers and fishermen have seen their livelihoods threatened.

Tokyo Electric said it would sell off at least 600 billion yen in assets — including real estate and a stake in one of Japan’s largest telecommunications companies — to help meet compensation payments. The company’s board of directors promised to take no pay, and other executives will return 40 percent to 60 percent of their paychecks.

The company also said it would not pay dividends for the current fiscal year. Still, it was impossible to forecast earnings for the year, the company said.

Moody’s Japan has warned that it could downgrade its debt rating for Tokyo Electric to junk bond status.

Speaking after Tokyo Electric’s announcement, Yukio Edano, the top government spokesman, called for the company to step up efforts to squeeze out funds for compensation payments.

“This is just the start. There must be more scrutiny and more effort,” Mr. Edano said.

During the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, it became clear that Mr. Shimizu would have to go as the nuclear complex was exposed as woefully unprotected against tsunami risks.

Tokyo Electric has also come under intense criticism for its handling of the accident. Revelations this month that three of the plant’s reactors may have suffered meltdowns in the early days of the crisis has added to the furor.

Mr. Shimizu had been particularly criticized for largely disappearing from the public eye just as the crisis worsened. He checked himself into a hospital for a week after the disaster, and has rarely appeared at news conferences since.

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