Angry scenes as Japan's TEPCO shareholders demand end to nuclear

Kyoko Hasegawa

Furious shareholders in the company that runs Japan's crippled Fukushima nuclear power station joined campaigners Thursday to demand the permanent closure of the utility's atomic plants, as it held its annual meeting. Dozens of demonstrators with loudspeakers and banners said Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) must act to avoid a repetition of the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, where three reactors went into meltdown after Japan's huge earthquake-sparked tsunami. Japan shut down all 48 of its reactors in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, the country's worst nuclear crisis in a generation. The government and electricity companies, including TEPCO, would like to fire some of them up again -- but public unease has so far prevented that, as has a new, toothier watchdog. There was pushing and shoving between security guards and demonstrators as they tried to approach TEPCO shareholders going into the annual meeting in Tokyo. Activists from conservation group Greenpeace wore full protective suits and industrial face masks to remind shareholders what evacuated families who lived near Fukushima must wear if they go back to check on their homes. Katsutaka Idogawa, former mayor of the town of Futaba that hosts the crippled plant, lashed out at supporters of nuclear power, including TEPCO's management. "Why don't you get exposed to radiation yourself? Why don't you lose your homeland?" he asked as shareholders filed into Tokyo International Forum for the meeting. His town remains evacuated because of elevated levels of radiation, amid expectations that it will be decades before it is safe to return, if ever. Idogawa -- who bought TEPCO shares last year in a bid to influence the company's decisions -- said the firm has been slow to offer compensation to those who lost homes, jobs, farms and their communities, and what they have offered has been inadequate. "You don't pay enough compensation and don't take responsibility. I can't forgive you!" he said. - 'Are we going to make the same mistake?' - The sentiment was echoed during the meeting by fellow shareholders whose communities host other nuclear plants. A woman from Niigata prefecture -- where TEPCO hopes to restart reactors at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, the world's largest nuclear plant -- also urged the company to put an end to its nuclear operations. "Are we going to make the same mistake that we had in Fukushima, also in Niigata?" she said. "Fellow shareholders, please support this proposal of scrapping the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant... and revitalising the site with plans for renewable energy," she said. TEPCO has argued that restarting selected reactors at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa is the key to ensuring the company's survival as it battles huge costs. "We think the (Niigata prefectural) governor is totally right about his idea 'no investigation into the Fukushima accident, no talks on the resumption (of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant)," said TEPCO President Naomi Hirose. He said TEPCO was investigating the causes and facts of the Fukushima disaster, adding he hopes Niigata's governor will eventually give the greenlight to restarting the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant. The calls for an end to nuclear power were Thursday rejected by TEPCO and a majority of its shareholders -- who include a government-backed fund designed to rescue it, which holds 54.74 percent of outstanding stock. The government has poured billions of dollars into TEPCO to keep afloat a company that supplies electricity to Tokyo and its surrounding area, as it stumps up cash for decommissioning the reactors, cleaning up the mess they have made and paying compensation. During the meeting, Idogawa asked the company management to stop the legal battle over their responsibility for the accident and instead find compensation money for "evacuees and those who are in need". Others urged the management to invest in renewable energy, including solar power generation instead of nuclear plants. In eight other Japanese utilities' shareholders meetings also held on Thursday, all propositions to abandon nuclear power were rejected, Jiji Press reported.