Lawyer Kazuhiko Shimokobe, 64, who leads the operations of the Nuclear Damage Liability Facilitation Fund, has been appointed the new chairman of Tokyo Electric Power Co., which will be placed under state control.
The appointment was finally made after the selection process by private business operators ran into difficulties. However, given TEPCO’s current situation, the appointment of Shimokobe, an expert on bankruptcy laws and corporate rehabilitation, may be more desirable.
Saddled with compensation for damages incurred by last year’s accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and costs of decontamination and decommissioning the reactors, TEPCO is essentially in a situation in which its debts exceed its assets. Under conventional circumstances, the utility should aim at reconstruction after taking bankruptcy procedures.
But in an attempt to avoid fiscal spending, the government has stuck to a system that requires TEPCO to repay its debts over a long period even though the government would put up funds needed for compensation. The re-examination of nuclear power policies that directly affect TEPCO’s management and the reform related to electricity supply are still at the halfway point, and a clear direction has yet to be established.
Under such circumstances, even if experienced company managers want to demonstrate their capabilities, they would be in fetters. Though it is depressing that the business world failed to offer capable personnel to steer the troubled company, the government must blame itself for the difficulty in choosing the new chairman.
The current framework of putting up a front to somehow come up with funds for compensation by keeping TEPCO barely alive will run into a wall sooner or later. Drastic measures to hold TEPCO’s shareholders and banks that have business relations with the utility responsible should be swiftly implemented based on the view that it is unavoidable for the public to shoulder part of the burden.
We want Shimokobe to make the most of his knowledge and experience to deal with the situation from a broad perspective. What the new chairman should protect is not TEPCO itself but the supply of electricity.
For that purpose, there is a need to build a new corporate structure that incorporates restraints on electricity consumption. Bold restructuring measures and reforming the mind-set of TEPCO employees are indispensable.
By looking into TEPCO’s financial situation and other processes, Shimokobe has shed light on problems in the electric power industry, such as the inefficient procurement of materials and the inadequate system of electricity charges.
It is also an advantage that Shimokobe’s thinking shares much in common with that of industry minister Yukio Edano and others who are advancing electricity-related reform. We urge Shimokobe to serve an important role as “a bridge” toward a new electricity supply system.
The first thing Shimokobe is expected to do is to deal sincerely and promptly with compensation.
The responsibility of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s administration is grave. Not only sufferers of the nuclear accident but also businesses and consumers facing electricity rate hikes are growing increasingly unhappy with and distrustful of TEPCO’s stance. If the government requires Shimokobe alone to take the heat, no one would be willing to succeed him.
The government must properly support compensation. It should also advance nuclear energy policy and electricity supply reform based on reflections of the accident. Only when they come together can TEPCO be reborn.
--The Asahi Shimbun, April 20
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