August 16, 2022

Tepco Quells Push by Shareholders to End Nuclear Program

The management of the operating company, Tokyo Electric Power, or Tepco, as it is known, also pushed through the appointment of 17 board members, including the reappointment of its 71-year-old chairman, raising questions about the extent of the overhaul that the company promised after the nuclear disaster.

“I apologize from the bottom of my heart for the trouble and fear that we have brought to our shareholders, and to society,” the chairman, Tsunehisa Katsumata, said at the shareholders’ meeting at a tightly guarded Tokyo hotel.

“We will do our utmost to bring the accident to a resolution and to work toward our mission of providing a stable source of electricity,” he said.

Some investors refused to be placated. “Go jump into a reactor and die!” one elderly man shouted at the row of executives, before being escorted out by attendants.

At one point, when Mr. Katsumata tried to wrap up a question-and-answer session, angry shareholders rushed toward the stage. The session continued.

With her voice shaking, a woman told board members that they were unfit to lead the company. She said the company had ignored warnings about the dangers of nuclear power. “Shame on you!” she cried. “You should all be sacked.”

Tokyo Electric has been fighting for its survival since the March 11 quake and tsunami ravaged the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, about 140 miles north of Tokyo, leading to hydrogen explosions and releases of radioactive material in the worst nuclear accident since the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine in 1986.

At least 80,000 people in northeastern Japan have fled their homes, and farmers and fishermen in the area have had to abandon their livelihoods. Factories within a 20-kilometer evacuation zone have had to move or close.

Tokyo Electric could face as much as 11 trillion yen, or $136 billion, in compensation claims, analysts have estimated. The cost of dismantling the Fukushima Daiichi plant could reach an additional 20 trillion yen, according to the Japan Center for Economic Research.

The dismal forecasts have cast a dark cloud on the financial health of Japan’s largest utility, a company with strong links to government that has dominated the country’s power industry for decades. Last week, Moody’s cut Tokyo Electric’s credit rating to junk status, after a similar move by Standard Poor’s last month. Tokyo Electric shares have plunged more than 80 percent since the earthquake.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan has said that the government should provide a safety net for Tokyo Electric, to keep the company afloat while it pays damage claims. Japan is considering setting aside about 230 billion yen from a planned 2 trillion yen supplementary budget to help Tokyo Electric, according to Bloomberg News.

Mr. Kan has been eager to hold Tokyo Electric accountable and to avoid having to dip into public money. But he also wants the company to avoid bankruptcy, which would bring chaos to the stock and credit markets.

The company had about 933,000 shareholders at the end of March. At that time, financial institutions held about 30 percent of Tokyo Electric shares, while other corporations had 5 percent. Individual investors held about 44 percent, while overseas investors held 17 percent.

Nevertheless, many analysts have underscored the need for change at Tokyo Electric. “A fundamental structural overhaul is needed at the board level to enable Tepco to rebuild its reputation and recover financially,” Glass Lewis, a United States company that advises institutional investors, said in a report before the shareholder meeting.

Individual investors at the meeting on Tuesday aired similar demands.

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