Japan's Nuclear Crisis Takes Its Toll On Utility
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Among the casualties of Japan's earthquake and tsunami may be its largest utility company. Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, owns the nuclear reactor complex damaged in the quake. And in a country where overt displays of anger are frowned upon, nearly everyone is attacking the way TEPCO handled the incident. NPR's Jim Zarroli reports from Tokyo.
JIM ZARROLI: One again this week a senior TEPCO official appeared at a press conference to beg his country's forgiveness.
MONTAGNE: (Foreign language spoken)
U: Katsumata says he would first like to express his deep condolence to the victims of the earthquake.
ZARROLI: Najmedin Meshkati, engineering professor at the University of Southern California, says whatever the truth, TEPCO has been less than forthright with information and indifferent to safety.
P: One of the biggest problems with TEPCO, in addition to its lack of good, clean and healthy organization of safety culture, has been its lack of leadership.
ZARROLI: Meshkati says TEPCO has been implicated in scandal before. In 2002, four senior officials quit after the company was accused of falsifying inspection reports. Meshkati says the company should have learned from that incident and gotten more serious about safety. But it didn't. Party because of the cozy relationship it enjoys with regulators. After March 11th, Meshkati says, the company has no choice but to change.
P: This incident is the straw that broke camel's back. TEPCO has to go through a major organizational culture change. That's the only way that this company can be saved.
ZARROLI: Meanwhile, the troubles are taking a huge financial toll on TEPCO. The world's fourth biggest utility, TEPCO has long been seen as a corporate cash cow. Now it has watched its share price fall by three-quarters. Hiroki Shibata is an analyst at Standard & Poor's, which downgraded TEPCO's debt on March 18th, and he says things aren't getting any better for the company.
MONTAGNE: (Through translator) The situation has gotten worse, since then, for three reasons. They face the cost of compensating for the damage, the recovery costs and also the costs of providing alternative fuels following the shutdown of the reactors.
ZARROLI: One analyst's report that came out this week said TEPCO will probably face damage claims of $130 billion from people affected by the reactor accident. Shibata says the only reason TEPCO isn't in bigger trouble is that the government is widely expected to bail it out. But, he says, TEPCO's financial future is murky right now.
MONTAGNE: (Through translator) Because compensation and other costs are estimated to be huge, the question is whether the government will support them financially. And if so, how much?
ZARROLI: Jim Zarroli, NPR News, Tokyo.
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