Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Japan: TEPCO Chief MIA. Why and Where Is He?

Greater Tokyo Area is the world's most populou...Tokyo, city of 39 million - Image via Wikipedia
From Denny: TEPCO Chief Masataka Shimizu, who has not been seen in public since 16 March, is the subject of speculation. Japanese media is swirling with suicide rumors as an explanation for his absence.

It was March 15 when the Prime Minister Naoto Kan angrily demanded to know from Shimizu and other TEPCO executives, shouting, "What the hell is going on?" PM Kan was furious at how slow Shimizu was at informing him of the crisis at the plant and the seriousness of the situation.

The next day Shimizu claimed to be sick in his bed though he was still collecting information from the task force pulled together by the company and the government. Yet he was never visible to anyone, again claiming to be just in the next room resting or at home sick. He never attended crisis meetings or visited TEPCO HQ nor did he relinquish control of the crisis to deputies until just recently.

It was Shimizu who delayed use of sea water in a timely fashion to cool the overheating reactors because he was worried about the damage it could cause. That gave credibility to the Tokyo Governor who accused him of being too slow in his response as well as "greedy" to reuse the reactors: "Had they used sea water from the start we wouldn’t be in this situation."

More reports have surfaced that TEPCO ignored mandated safety checks and falsified inspections for ten years. Shimizu is known as "a cost cutter" and decided to extend the operational life of old reactors. TEPCO was warned two years ago from geologists that a tsunami could overwhelm and cripple their defenses. Shimizu ignored and dismissed the warning.

Today, plutonium traces were found in five locations around the plant facility. If only one tiny particle of this plutonium, a byproduct of uranium fission, is inhaled or ingested the plutonium is lethal.

Currently, under consideration by the Japanese government, is to nationalize the plant so they can manage the crisis. Going into the third week of this crisis, today nuclear reactor number two has been confirmed as breached and melted down through its containment vessel and onto the concrete floor.

This can create a major release of radioactive gases at the site.  There is usually a secondary wall of protection to contain an issue like this but experts are uncertain if any of the plant explosions may have damaged the secondary protective concrete and steel structure.

TEPCO is the largest utility company in Asia. Shimizu took over as Chief in 2008 as a 43-year veteran of the company. Largely because of this nuclear disaster the company has lost over 67 percent of its share price. As a result of this disaster the company has lost over $26 billion. Though TEPCO has huge cash reserves they are in talks with several banks for emergency loans.

According to Bloomberg, "that’s the worst performance of any of the 88 members of the MSCI World Utilities Index and of the 17 companies in the Topix Electric Power & Gas Index."

While Japanese media wonder if Shimizu has killed himself over the shame of this crisis, he could be making plans to gather his assets and family to leave the country. To know for certain as to why he is MIA let's all "follow the money."

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