Japan's Tepco baffled by criticism of its role in nuclear disaster

Thu Jul 19, 2012 4:30pm EDT
 
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By Aaron Sheldrick and Linda Sieg

TOKYO (Reuters) - The new head of the company at the centre of Japan's nuclear disaster said on Thursday he was baffled by fierce criticism of the firm where he has worked nearly 40 years and hoped to rebuild public trust but offered no clear idea how to do so.

In a scathing report issued this month, an investigative panel appointed by parliament concluded that the last year's Fukushima disaster was preventable and resulted from "collusion" among Tokyo Electric Power Co, its regulators and the government.

"You can destroy trust in a single day but to rebuild it takes time," the 59-year-old Yale-educated president of Tepco, Naomi Hirose, told a packed news conference of foreign and Japanese reporters.

"Of course, it is a question whether we can regain trust," said Hirose, who joined the company in 1976.

He has taken over Tepco's key post at a time when anti-nuclear protests are growing, ruling party lawmakers are bolting over a decision to restart idled reactors despite safety fears and the government is nationalizing the struggling utility.

The nuclear issue has increasingly taken centre-stage in political debate ahead of parliamentary elections which could come later this year. On Monday, an estimated 100,000 anti-nuclear protesters took to the streets in Tokyo, adding to pressure on the government which is under fire over its handling of nuclear policy issues.

Wearing a grey suit and blue tie, the diminutive, grey-haired Hirose spoke in fluent English for 15 minutes before responding to questions in his native Japanese.

The once well-respected utility has been widely castigated for its failure to prepare for the massive tsunami that devastated its Fukushima plant last year, lampooned for its inept response to the reactor meltdowns, and denigrated for its perceived arrogance.   Continued...

 
A man walking out is seen past Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO)'s logo at the company headquarters in Tokyo July 19, 2012. REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao