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Tepco meets wrath of shareholders

Angry Tepco shareholders yesterday slammed the company for its handling of the nation’s worst ever atomic accident after the March quake-tsunami, amid calls for the firm to abandon nuclear power.

About 100 police officers were deployed around the Prince Park Tower Hotel where Tokyo Electric Power Co. held its first shareholder meeting since the nine magnitude earthquake and tsunami battered its Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

Tepco shares have lost around 85 per cent of their value since a raging wall of water crippled cooling systems at the facility, with three reactors suffering meltdowns and the plant spewing radiation into the environment.

“It would be worth harakiri if we were in a different era,” said a shareholder, referring to a form of samurai ritual suicide, when asked if Tepco’s response to the accident had been adequate.

Tepco has been accused of ignoring warnings about the coastal plant’s vulnerability to a tsunami, dithering after the accident and initially declaring damage at the facility to be limited before admitting the contrary.

The government has put forward a scheme to ensure Tepco meets huge compensation claims but worries for the firm’s future remain under the weight of massive costs as it struggles to resolve the crisis by January 2012.

A record 9,309 shareholders attended yesterday’s fiery six-hour meeting, the longest in the company’s history, fuming at its handling of the disaster with many demanding it stop using nuclear energy.

“I am so furious with the company,” said shareholder Furukawa, who declined to give her first name. “They never changed even after repeated problems,” she said referring to Tepco’s track record of safety issues.

Around 85,000 people have been evacuated from their homes, farms and businesses in a 20-kilometre zone around the radiation-spewing plant, with evacuation pockets also further afield.

“I would like to tell Tepco that we no longer need nuclear power. I think the accident is a man-made disaster,” said Torao Ogawa, a 60-year-old shareholder.

Tepco officials were jeered during the meeting in which they again apologised for the accident, as 402 shareholders called on the company to abandon nuclear power in a proposal rejected by a majority vote.

The firm has a total of 933,031 shareholders, of whom 746,927 have voting rights.

The appointment of 17 board members was approved. New president Toshio Nishizawa will replace Masataka Shimizu, who announced his resignation in May.

Many Japanese households purchased Tepco shares as long-term assets expecting stable and relatively high dividend yields, given its position as a power supplier for Tokyo and the Kanto region – an area that contributes more than a third of the nation’s gross domestic product.

But Tepco is unlikely to pay dividends or make profits for years as it undertakes mammoth restructuring, battles to contain radiation, and pays out compensation claims that could reach 11 trillion yen ($136 billion) according to some estimates.

Tepco reported a $15 billion annual net loss for the year ended March, the biggest ever for a non-financial Japanese firm, on costs related to world’s worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.

Ratings agencies Moody’s last week downgraded Tepco to junk status, citing the volatile situation at the plant and uncertainty surrounding the level of state support for the power company.

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