Tokyo Electric Power Co. shareholders turned up in record numbers at their first meeting since the crisis at the company’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant wiped about $36 billion off its market value.
An earthquake and tsunami on March 11 caused meltdowns at the plant north of Tokyo, triggering the worst nuclear accident in 25 years. The catastrophe displaced 50,000 households after radiation leaked into the air, soil and sea. Shareholders of the company known as Tepco voted today to reject a proposal to abandon nuclear power and in support of 17 company nominees to the board.
“There is only so much renewable energy we can use,” said shareholder Naoyuki Nemoto, 31, adding he opposed the motion on atomic power. “We have no other choice but to rely on nuclear.”
Tepco, which has plunged 85 percent since the earthquake, arranged extra seating as shareholder attendance swelled to 9,309. The company, which had planned for 5,600 attendees, said the previous high was 3,342 last year.
In the main conference room where the meeting was held, one shareholder interrupted proceedings shouting at outgoing President Masataka Shimizu about not being allowed in to voice his opinion. The man was ushered out by security.
Scuffles also broke out as shareholders clamored to get in the room and struggled with guards to make their voices heard.
Shareholders asked the company about how it will meet compensation claims and pay for extra fuel to fire thermal stations after closing all but one of its nuclear stations.
“On behalf of all of the executives I want to apologize to investors and local people for all the trouble caused by the Fukushima Dai-Ichi accident,” Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata said at the meeting. “We are also working on compensating the victims in a timely and fair manner in accordance with the nuclear power compensation law.”
Tepco may face as much as 11 trillion yen ($136 billion) in compensation claims, according to Bank of America Corp.’s Merrill Lynch unit. The utility posted a loss of 1.25 trillion yen for the year ended March 31, including a 1.1 trillion yen charge related to costs from the accident.
Before the meeting shareholders opposed to nuclear energy were encouraged to gather in Shiba Park, which surrounds the meeting venue, according to a protester website.
Earlier, six police buses and other official vehicles were parked outside the hotel located near the landmark Tokyo Tower, which is still bent at the tip from the earthquake that led to the troubles facing the utility.
Tepco shares ended unchanged at 316 yen at the 3 p.m. close in Tokyo. Moody Investor Services cut the utility’s credit rating to junk on June 20, following Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services decision to drop it to below-investment grade on May 30. Japanese credit rating companies still maintain investment-grade rankings on the company’s debt.
Some shareholders came to support Tepco.
“It’s harsh to make the company solely responsible,” said Saiichi Kaneko, 77, a retiree and shareholder, speaking outside the meeting venue. “The government gave permission for nuclear power. We need nuclear power.”
Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s cabinet agreed on June 14 to provide a safety net for Tepco while it pays claims for damages related to the nuclear accident.
Japan is considering about 230 billion yen in outlays to aid Tepco and radiation monitoring in its planned 2 trillion yen supplementary budget, according to a draft outline prepared by the Finance Ministry. The budget still needs parliamentary approval.
A group of shareholders has been proposing a motion to stop Tepco from using atomic energy for the past two decades, each time failing at the annual meeting.
“We want you to make a courageous decision so that there will not be another Fukushima,” Haruna Takita, 33, said via loudspeaker to shareholders lined up outside the Prince Park Tower Hotel in Tokyo before the meeting. “Think about children and their future,” said Takita, a protester who comes from Koriyama City, 60 kilometers west of the damaged plant.
Tepco has opposed the proposal of withdrawing from nuclear power generation, saying that it’s a matter for the board.
The previous longest shareholders’ meeting was in 1999, lasting 3 hours and 42 minutes, according to Tepco. The company had 933,031 shareholders as of March 31.
The cost of dismantling the Fukushima plant may reach 20 trillion yen and compensation for households in a 20-kilometer evacuation zone may total 630 billion yen over 10 years, according to the Japan Center for Economic Research.