Vanishing act by Japanese executive during nuclear crisis raises questions - The Washington Post
Vanishing act by Japanese executive during nuclear crisis raises questions
Text Size PrintE-mailReprints
The governor’s refusal to go along with the customary rituals of corporate penitence reflects the depth of Japan’s current trauma — and the agonies confronting a Tepco leadership steeped in the discreet habits of Japan Inc.
On Sunday, hundreds of protesters marched past Tepco’s headquarters, chanting “No more Hiroshimas” and hurling insults at a pillar of Japan’s corporate establishment. One protester, dressed like the Grim Reaper with skull mask and black cloak, stood in front of a line of police and waved a board mocking Tepco’s assurances: “Nuclear energy is still safe. DEATH.”
After the earthquake and tsunami, entire towns in Japan are impossible to reach. But search-and-rescue teams are fanning out in what will be a lengthy, complex endeavor.
How the nuclear emergency unfolded
More On This Story
Radiation levels in Japan reach new high
Vanishing act by Japanese executive
Hundreds sent for radiation testing
Even company insiders now question Shimizu’s decision to play by old rules during the worst nuclear crisis since the 1986 Chernobyl catastrophe. “Personally, I’d recommend that he speak in public as soon as possible,” said Toko Kanoh, a former Tepco vice president who, after 12 years in the upper house of parliament, is back at the electricity company as an adviser.
Like his predecessor as president, who got booted up to the chairmanship after an earlier but far less serious nuclear accident in 2007, Shimizu is a Tepco lifer: He joined the company at age 23 just weeks after graduating from Keio University, an elite private college in Tokyo.
Compared with the chief executives of major U.S. or European companies, Shimizu earns a pittance. Tepco won’t give his salary, but total remuneration for the president and 20 other directors came to $8.9 million in fiscal 2009, the last period for which figures are available.
But power and prestige in Japan have never been just about money. Running a utility that supplied a third of all Japan’s electricity made Shimizu a full member of Japan’s elite, and a vice chairman of Nippon Keindanren, a powerful and very buttoned-down business federation.
Japan’s mainstream media have mostly gone easy on the Tepco boss, in contrast with the treatment meted out in America to BP boss Tony Hayward during the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. But one online journal demanded that Shimizu be tried in a criminal court. Several bloggers called for the death penalty, though far more numerous are those who simply want him to break cover and appear in public.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan has also voiced frustration at Tepco’s bunker mentality. Japanese newspapers reported that Kan visited Shimizu before dawn at the start of the crisis and later, upon learning that the company might withdraw its last workers from the smoldering nuclear plant, shouted, “What the hell is going on?”
Since then, however, the prime minister himself has mostly dropped from view and officials have stopped criticizing Tepco.
The electricity company has lost two-thirds of its value on the Tokyo stock exchange since the March 11 earthquake. Far more than just an electricity generator, the company has more than 40 subsidiaries involved in everything from real estate to forestry and recycling. It owns a Canadian uranium company, a Japanese resort, a shipping firm in the Bahamas and a company in Delaware.