Tokyo Electric Power Company isn’t having a good disaster. Following the catastrophic failure at its Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant, the company’s management hasn’t exactly been an exemplar of crisis management.
We learned Wednesday that TEPCO President Masataka Shimizu, whose whereabouts over the last two weeks have been the subject of rampant speculation, has been admitted to hospital suffering from hypertension and dizziness. I’m sure he can count on happy thoughts from the irradiated workers battling at the power plant, their family members, and indeed most of the population of Fukushima.
Hospitalization timed to coincide with or anticipate a scandal has actually long been part of the crisis management playbook for certain Japanese politicians and senior executives. (To be fair, many of them are quite elderly.) So the news won’t do much to win the sympathy of TEPCO critics.
In Shimizu’s absence, TEPCO officials gave a press conference—only their second since all this began—at which they said that the company would try to avoid a post-crisis nationalization, a possibility raised by politicians on Tuesday. The utility clearly faces immense problems once the immediate threat is over, and will at the very least need substantial government support. It will also have a job convincing the people of Japan that it should continue running its other nuclear power plants.
TEPCO itself seems to be not quite grasping this. At the press conference, it said that reactors 1 to 4 at the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant would have to be decommissioned, hardly a newsflash for anyone following events. But the utility implied that it thinks it might be able to continue running reactors 5 and 6, which suffered less damage. This was quickly shot down by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano, the face of the government during the crisis and now a rising political star.
Japan has a major debate looming on how best to meet its power needs going forward. Score yesterday’s press meet as the opening salvo.
James Pach is the publisher of The Diplomat and the founder of Trans-Asia Inc., a Tokyo-based translation and investor relations company.
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