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March 15, 2012

TEPCO under fire for hiring ex-Tokyo gov't bureaucrat to collect energy policy info



Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) hired a former Tokyo Metropolitan Government official to collect the capital's energy policy information in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the Mainichi has learned.

Hisao Ohashi, 65, former chief of the Bureau of Environment at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, was employed by TEPCO as an advisor in September last year, half a year after the outbreak of the nuclear crisis at the utility's Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, sources close to the case told the Mainichi. Ohashi, who had left his metropolitan government post in June 2006, was assigned by TEPCO to collect internal information on the capital's energy policy from metropolitan officials and provide the information to the utility.

While some TEPCO officials were cautious about the idea of hiring the former metropolitan bureaucrat as the utility was to receive massive amounts of public funds from the central government on the heels of the nuclear disaster, the company's general affairs division pressed ahead with the personnel plan, which was ultimately approved by TEPCO President Toshio Nishizawa. The utility's move, which comes against its responsibility to streamline as a precondition for raising electricity bills, looks set to stir up criticism toward its management attitude.

At TEPCO, Ohashi served as an advisor to its Environment Department, which is in charge of taking measures to reduce carbon dioxide emissions at power stations and the disposal of polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) contained in large electric transformers. However, he quit TEPCO on Feb. 20 this year after learning that the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper had started investigating his re-employment.

According to sources close to TEPCO, the utility's Environment Department had intended since before the March 11 disaster to hire a former metropolitan official because the department was having difficulties in responding to a metropolitan government system that obliges plants and other facilities to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 6 to 8 percent, starting in April 2010.

TEPCO's general affairs division and former TEPCO officials singled out Ohashi, and the utility told him in the summer of 2010 that it wanted to hire him as an advisor the next summer. At the time, Ohashi was positive about the plan, but after the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami in March last year, he declined to take up the post, saying, "The situation has changed."

TEPCO nevertheless sounded out Ohashi once more in May last year, but he refused again. In August, TEPCO asked him one more time, saying, "We are in trouble making post-disaster responses, such as the disposal of debris (in disaster-stricken regions). Please advise us on how local governments think about debris." Ohashi complied with TEPCO's request, thinking, "I can utilize my experience and will also be of help to others." While Ohashi had initially offered to work for free, the utility's personnel affairs department was reluctant to hire him that way and ended up paying him over 5 million yen a year in salary.

A special measures law enacted after the March 11 quake disaster and nuclear crisis obliges TEPCO to cooperate with the central and local governments over the treatment of debris contaminated with radioactive materials.

Some in the utility's Environment Department had voiced concerns over hiring the former metropolitan official, saying, "If this comes to surface, we would face criticism." However, the utility's general affairs division rammed through the personnel plan. "On top of the treatment of debris, the biggest reason for us to invite Mr. Ohashi was because we wanted to know the capital's policy directions," sources close to the case confided.

Ohashi collected information from metropolitan officials about the Tokyo government's plan to construct a liquefied natural gas (LNG) power plant as part of measures to deal with electricity shortages. He reported the information to TEPCO officials during its meetings. "We had expected that we would also be able to get information on environmental policies (that he was specialized in) thereafter," said concerned sources.

After retiring from the metropolitan government, Ohashi became a board member of a company capitalized by local governments and then served as president of a metropolitan government-affiliated organization for about a year until July last year.

"We hired him because we expected that he would exert a positive impact on our company," said TEPCO President Nishizawa. "If there's any criticism, we will face it."

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