On Friday, the former president of Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the utility responsible for managing the disaster struck Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, will take his turn for the first time to be grilled by an investigative panel on what led to last year’s meltdown. With members appointed by the Japanese parliament, the panel is tasked with uncovering the truth about TEPCO’s mismanagement and the causes of the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986. Masataka Shimizu is expected to be questioned about his apparent plan to abandon the tsunami-stuck Fukushima plant during the height of the crisis.
Naoto Kan, who was prime minister in March of 2011, and two other ministers from that time previously testified before the investigative panel and stated that Shimizu had considered withdrawing all the utility employees and abandoning the plant as explosions released radiation across northeast Japan, and even threatened the capital city of Tokyo. The 67 year old disappeared from the public three days into the disaster, and was later hospitalized due to high blood pressure and dizzy spells. TEPCO’s chairman was left to supervise the utility alone in Shimizu’s absence.
In June of last year, Masataka Shimizu stepped down as the president of TEPCO, along with a number of other executive leaders for the utility company. While he has already been questioned by the parliament, Friday’s questioning will be the first time appears in public to face one of three investigative inquiries. A number of TEPCO executives have stated that it was impossible to predict the high-level of damage the tsunami caused to the Fukushima facility, however company documents have been uncovered that show the utility company and its leaders were clearly notified of the risks posed to the nuclear plant, and that they chose to ignore the warnings to implement safety precautions.
TEPCO denies that there was ever talk of issuing an order for employees to abandon the plant. In the immediate aftermath of the meltdown, Shimizu became the central target for the public’s outrage. Even the governor of Fukushima Prefecture refused to meet the TEPCO president on two different occasions when he tried to offer a personal apology. With his step down from leading the utility many hoped that he would just crawl away and never be heard from again, but just as those vile corporate ties exist in other countries, so they do here in Japan as well. Later this month, Shimizu will be named as an outside board member of Fuji Oil Co., owned by AOC Holdings Inc., a company with 8.7% of its stake held by TEPCO.