22 Juillet 2017
June 20, 2017
New TEPCO executives tripping over their tongues
THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
Hoping to restore trust in embattled Tokyo Electric Power Co., the company's new chairman and president have instead generated unwanted criticism and hostility in their first gaffe-filled month on the job.
They have added to the problems facing the operator of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, which also is hoping to bring its idled reactors back online.
On July 19, TEPCO Chairman Takashi Kawamura, who is also honorary chairman of Hitachi Ltd., was apologizing at the headquarters of JF Zengyoren, a nationwide federation of fishery associations, in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward. He was forced to explain “the true intention” of remarks he made last week regarding the release of diluted radiation-contaminated water into the sea.
On July 12, during a collective media interview session, Kawamura said “the decision has been made” to do so.
On the Fukushima plant premises, nearly 780,000 tons of water used to cool the reactors are stored, which had been decontaminated of radioactive cesium and plutonium but not tritium. Legally, the tritium-tainted water can be released into the sea, if diluted enough so the concentration of tritium is below a set standard.
However, as the release would add further adversity to the struggling fishing industry in Fukushima and neighboring prefectures, the central government has not made any clear decision on what to do with it.
Kawamura, however, also said, “I am on the same line as the opinion of chair Shunichi Tanaka (of Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority) that it is scientifically safe (to discharge water into the sea).”
On July 14, disaster reconstruction minister Masayoshi Yoshino expressed concerns that releasing the water now would “definitely affect public sentiment” over catches from Fukushima Prefecture, where full-scale fishing had been stalled.
At the July 19 meeting with the fishery federation, Kawamura retracted his comment, saying, “As a company or personally, no decision has ever been made whether to release contaminated water to the sea. The true intention of my comments were not properly understood by some media agency.” The TEPCO chairman apologized to Hiroshi Kishi, chairman of the federation, and others at the meeting.
Kishi, in return, submitted a letter of protest stating that they “strongly demand not to release radiation-contaminated water to the sea” and it is “unacceptable to the fishery industry and other Japanese people.”
On the same day, Kawamura admitted to the media what he said a week earlier, explaining that he meant “it cannot be independently decided by TEPCO.”
On July 19, in another part of Tokyo, NRA Chairman Tanaka told the media at a regular news conference that he is “boiling with anger” with Kawamura for including him in his comment. He also said Kawamura's remark symbolizes his reluctance to face Fukushima residents.
“He used me as an excuse,” said Tanaka, who has suggested releasing water before the storage of contaminated water on the site reaches full capacity. “I have told him he needs to confront Fukushima issues as the first party to resolve them even if he faces a backlash. Despite that, he is still looking for an escape.”
On July 10, Kawamura and TEPCO President Tomoaki Kobayakawa attended a meeting with NRA members, including Tanaka, in Tokyo.
There, Kawamura said, “TEPCO has a responsibility to show that it can operate a nuclear power plant,” and he was warned by an NRA member for being “overly forward-looking.” Currently, none of TEPCO’s nuclear power plants are on-line.
On June 27, Kobayakawa also landed in hot water after referring to the town of Futaba, which co-hosts the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, as “where the evacuation order is partially lifted” in a comment to a group of reporters. However, the town has been in a “difficult-to-return zone” since the accident, and no residents are allowed to return to their homes.
At a regular news conference on July 18, a disgruntled Fukushima Governor Masao Uchibori said, “I would like TEPCO to fulfill its responsibility as the operator that caused a severe accident.”
(This article was reported by Yoichi Yonetani, Noriyoshi Otsuki, Masanobu Higashiyama and Chikako Kawahara.)