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Japan utility chief resigns over nuclear crisis

Tokyo Electric Power Co. President Masataka Shimizu resigned Friday in the face of increasing allegations that the utility has mishandled the ongoing crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which was damaged in the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

The anticipated resignation came on the same day that the troubled utility announced $15.3 billion in net losses for the fiscal year that ended in March, a consequence of the nuclear disaster that spewed radioactive isotopes into the air, soil and sea and forced the evacuation of thousands of residents in northeast Japan.

Tokyo Electric Power’s annual losses were the largest in history for a Japanese company, excluding financial institutions, according to Japanese news media. Tepco last year had reported a profit of $1.6 billion.

The company also announced that it had scrapped plans to build two new nuclear reactors at the damaged Fukushima plant. All six of the current reactors at the site will be deactivated.

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The magnitude 9 earthquake and the tsunami it caused left more than 20,000 people dead or missing and tens of thousands homeless.

Shimizu, 66, had hinted for some time he would resign this summer. On Friday he said he was leaving as a way to take personal responsibility amid growing criticism of Tepco’s handling of the nuclear crisis, which many have compared to the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. The practice, known as kejime, is common in corporate Japan.

Wearing a blue company jacket, Shimizu bowed deeply during a news conference and expressed regrets to Japanese consumers — in particular, residents of the area near the damaged power plant.

“I want to apologize from the bottom of my heart for the accident at Fukushima Daiichi causing great distress and worry,” he said.

The resignation followed weeks of repeated acts of contrition by Shimizu, who had visited evacuation centers near the plant to listen to complaints and plead for forgiveness.

Days after the disaster, Shimizu had reported that he suffered dizziness and high blood pressure “through overwork.” He later recovered, the company reported at the time.

Shimizu is being replaced as president by Toshio Nishizawa, 60, the company’s managing director.

Tepco faces a bill for tens of billions of dollars it may be forced to pay to disaster victims. Officials have asked Japan’s central government for help in the payments. It also was not clear Friday what the losses would mean to the utility’s possible payment plan.

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In a statement, Tepco officials said that the erosion of the company’s earnings “raises substantial questions about its ability to continue” operations. Company officials missed making dividend payments for the first time since the utility was established in 1951.

The decommissioning of the four stricken reactors at the Fukushima plant and its search for an alternative source of power cost Tepco at least $12.5 billion, the utility said.

john.glionna@latimes.com

Hall is a special correspondent.


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