東電株主総会 社内論理より安全守れ


(Mainichi Japan) June 29, 2011
Strengthening of nuclear safety more important than TEPCO's 'internal company logic'
社説:東電株主総会 社内論理より安全守れ

Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), operator of the disaster-struck Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, held its general shareholders' meeting on June 28, attracting the largest crowd and taking the most time of any shareholders' meeting in company history.

Shareholder questions covered a lot of ground, including board members' salaries, cuts to company pensions, nuclear disaster compensation payments, and nuclear safety policy.

Overall, the executives on stage faced a barrage of harsh inquiries about not just management's responsibility for the Fukushima crisis, but also about the very state of the nuclear power industry.

"If TEPCO doesn't change its basic makeup, there will be disaster after disaster," came the rising tide of criticism.

The utility's managers must take that criticism to heart.

Since TEPCO's Kashiwazaki Kariwa nuclear power plant in Kashiwazaki, Niigata Prefecture, was damaged in the 2007 Chuetsu Oki Earthquake, a natural plus a nuclear disaster has ceased to be a "virtually impossible hypothetical."

Furthermore, the very real danger of a major earthquake striking off Japan's northeast coast was pointed out during a Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry commission of inquiry two years ago, but TEPCO did nothing to improve safety policies.

Looking back even further, in the summer of 2002 TEPCO was lambasted for lax governance on safety issues after the company was caught hiding problems at Kashiwazaki Kariwa and the Fukushima No. 1 and 2 nuclear power plants.

Now, it can be said that because of the high level of technical specialization needed to get into the nuclear power industry, it has a tendency of insularity and exclusivity.

However, for that fact alone the industry must proactively release information to the public and accept an inspection regime.

At TEPCO, however, that kind of thinking just never entered the management culture.

Masataka Shimizu, who stepped down as TEPCO president at the shareholders' meeting, admitted during the corporate earnings presentation that the firm had "lost sight of the good of the customer and of local areas, and there remains a tendency to make moves based solely on the company's internal logic."

If that's the case, then now is the time to rebuild TEPCO corporate culture, doing away with the prioritization of parochial interests and inculcating the tools to create a thorough safety management system.

In the June 28 meeting, much attention was paid to a group of 402 stockholders who proposed a motion to gradually eliminate TEPCO's nuclear power stations.

The motion was defeated by an overwhelming margin, but the very fact that an anti-nuclear power block could form is a major development.

Of the nine major electric companies in Japan who have nuclear plants in their generating stock, shareholders at six have proposed abandoning nuclear power.

Meanwhile, some third-party firms giving advice on shareholder voting even warned institutional investors, "The continuation of nuclear power generation by private firms carries too high a risk," and therefore utility shareholders should support motions to abandon nuclear power.

Certainly, obtaining a site for a nuclear power station and managing nuclear safety both cost a great deal of money.

Also, in the case of a disaster like the one now unfolding at the Fukushima plant -- where there is as yet no upper limit or reprieve from compensation payments in sight -- the financial risk for power companies is extremely high.

Meanwhile, the role of the national government in the whole situation is vague, though continuing entrusting nuclear power -- which remains a central part of Japan's energy policy -- to private firms in the present fashion would seem to be impossible.

Even if Japan comes to depend less on nuclear power from here on out, we will still have a certain number of reactors in operation to fill our electricity needs.

So, what form should the strengthening of nuclear safety -- that most important of considerations -- take?

This must be the focus of deep national discussion.

毎日新聞 2011年6月29日 東京朝刊

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