When the “Responsible Party” Acts Irresponsibly – update on TEPCO

The Fukushima 1 NPP

Image via Wikipedia

Update on March 31:  MSNBC evening TV news indicates that the national government in Japan has taken over the TEPCO utility; it is expected that the co. will be nationalized in the near future.

March 30: According to CNN news, the “The president of the embattled utility that owns the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant has been hospitalized due to “fatigue and stress,” the company said Wednesday.Tokyo Electric Power Co. President Masataka Shimizu was hospitalized Tuesday. The company has not released further details about his condition.”

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In the U.S. we use the term “responsible party” for the private sector entity that owns the facility that causes a hazardous material or technological crisis or disaster.  The relationship between that party and the national government is always a conflicted one — think, for example, of the relationship between the BP Oil Co. and the U.S. government over the deepsea drilling accident in 2010.  Here is the Japanese version of that relationship, as unfolding since the Sendai earthquake and tsunami: Amid Reactor Crisis, Japanese Utility Executive Vanishes, Wash. Post, March 28

In normal times, Masataka Shimizu lives in The Tower, a luxury high-rise in the same upscale Tokyo district as the U.S. Embassy. But he hasn’t been there for more than two weeks, according to a doorman.

The Japanese public hasn’t seen much of him recently either. Shimizu, the president of Tokyo Electric Power Co., or Tepco, the company that owns a haywire nuclear power plant 150 miles from the capital, is the most invisible — and most reviled —chief executive in Japan.

Vanishing in times of crisis is something of a tradition among Japan’s industrial and political elite. During Toyota’s recall debacle last year, the carmaker’s chief also went AWOL. “It is very, very sad, but this is normal in Japan,” saidYasushi Hirai, the chief editor of Shyukan Kinyobi, a weekly news magazine.

But the huge scale of the nuclear disaster at Fukushima Daiichi and mounting anger at Tepco’s obfuscations have put unprecedented strain on the Japanese establishment’s preference for invisible crisis management. And the Internet has helped erode Japan’s deferential norms and given voice to those who want more than a contrite bow.

Shimizu’s vanishing act “is not so much extremely strange as inexcusable,” said Takeo Nishioka, the chairman of the upper house of Japan’s Diet, or parliament.

Presently, the public expects more responsible and transparent actions from corporate executives.  And thanks to digital media the drama unfolds publicly, in view of the readers and viewers worldwide.

Apparently, the public in Japan is quite fed up with both the Prime Minister and with the President of TEMCO.  Various news services today have accounts of dissatisfaction with the performance of both executives. Now that a few weeks have past, and there has been time to appraise the performance of both leaders, the public finds them wanting.

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