USA | Shareholders Push Tepco to Abandon Nuclear Power

Posted on June 26, 2011

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USA | NEW YORK TIMES | 26 June 2011

Masafumi Asada bought shares of the Tokyo Electric Power Company almost a decade ago with a single purpose: To vote against the use of nuclear power.

Mr. Asada, a 70-year-old resident of Fukushima prefecture, the epicenter of Japan’s nuclear crisis, will speak on behalf of 402 shareholders on Tuesday at the annual general meeting of the utility known as Tepco, to ask it to stop atomic generation.

“Even if our proposal doesn’t go through, I will still hold the stock,” said Mr. Asada, whose 1.6 million yen ($20,000) investment in 800 shares 10 years ago has shrunk to about 12 percent of the original value. “I bought the stock to protect our lives, not to make money.”

Almost $37 billion of Tepco’s market value has been erased since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami knocked out the Fukushima Daiichi plant, causing meltdowns in three reactors. The catastrophe, the worst nuclear accident in 25 years, displaced 50,000 households after radiation leaked into the air, soil and sea.

A group of shareholders has been proposing the motion to stop Tepco from using atomic energy for the last two decades, each time failing at the annual meeting. This year, they may have some support: local news media reported that more than 60,000 people marched in demonstrations in Tokyo, Osaka, Hiroshima and Fukushima on June 11.

Tepco has opposed the proposal of withdrawing from nuclear power generation, saying that it was a matter for the board to weigh.

At the meeting, shareholders will vote on the appointment of 17 board members, including its newly named president, Toshio Nishizawa, 60, and its chairman, Tsunehisa Katsumata, 71. Sixteen of the 17 directors are Tepco executives, company documents show.

The lone outside director, Yasushi Aoyama, has been paid by a Tepco unit for two years in the past, according to the documents. Mr. Aoyama is a former vice governor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and has experience in urban planning and crisis management, the company said.

Glass, Lewis & Company, a proxy advisory firm in the United States, is recommending that shareholders vote against all nominees, citing a lack of independent members to oversee risk. Instead, independent directors that may change the way the company operates should be appointed, Naomi Stroud, an analyst at Glass Lewis, wrote in a June 13 report.

“The company has experienced significant problems with its safety practices and risk management, wreaking havoc on surrounding communities, destroying shareholder value as well as tarnishing its reputation,” Ms. Stroud wrote. “The appointment of new, independent directors untainted by prior safety lapses and poor communication would provide better oversight of the company on behalf of shareholders as well as stakeholders.”

This month, the Japanese cabinet approved a disaster compensation bill to help Tepco pay reparations with the support of a third party. A group of banks led by Sumitomo Mitsui Financial advanced 2 trillion yen (about $25 billion) of emergency loans to Tepco.

Tepco may face as much as 11 trillion yen in compensation claims, according to Bank of America’s Merrill Lynch unit.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.

“Perhaps the best solution would be to spin off all of the noncore assets, real estate and subsidiaries into a separate company for liquidation to pay for the damages,” said Curtis Freeze, founder of Prospect Asset Management in Honolulu. “Otherwise, the shareholders will expect Tepco to do as little as possible.”

Some institutional investors are selling shares of utility companies because of the risks associated with nuclear power.

The STB Asset Management Company said in April that it was removing Tepco stock from its socially responsible investing fund, citing environmental and health concerns after the accident.

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Posted in: USA