JAPAN | Kyushu Electric president to resign over pro-nuke e-mails

Posted on July 7, 2011

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JAPAN | JAPAN TIMES | 7 July 2011

Toshio Manabe, president of Kyushu Electric Power Co., talks to reporters at a news conference July 6. (Wataru Sekita)

Toshio Manabe, president of Kyushu Electric Power Co., said July 7 that he intends to resign after the utility was found to have instructed employees to manipulate public opinion on nuclear power.

Manabe said he will take responsibility for instructing employees to send “pro-nuclear power” e-mails to organizers of a public hearing broadcast on television in late June.

The program was sponsored by the central government to solicit opinions from residents of Saga Prefecture on a proposal to restart two reactors at Kyushu Electric’s Genkai nuclear power plant in Saga Prefecture.

According to Kyushu Electric, a senior company official on June 22 sent e-mails to employees and employees of subsidiaries instructing them to send messages to the program with a “pro-restarting” point of view. The e-mails were sent under the company name.

The e-mailed instructions also stated that e-mails to the program should be sent from personal accounts, not the company’s, apparently to hide the fact that the senders were connected to Kyushu Electric.

Manabe said he will make a final decision next week after discussing the matter with Shingo Matsuo, company chairman.

“I cannot decide by myself since the decision includes a matter of successor,” Manabe told The Asahi Shimbun on July 7. “(But) I won’t last long, even if I remain as the president.”

Executive Officer Kenichi Fujinaga, 60, is expected to succeed Manabe.

The e-mail incident will likely further delay the restart of the reactors.

Operations at the Genkai plant’s No. 2 and No. 3 reactors have been suspended since before the Great East Japan Earthquake for regular inspections.

With prospects dim for a restart of the nation’s suspended reactors due to the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, Genkai was a leading candidate to be the first to get back online.

On the June 26 Internet and cable TV broadcast, industry ministry officials answered questions from seven citizen representatives from Saga Prefecture and explained security issues and other aspects regarding the restart of the reactors.

About 473 e-mails and 116 faxes were sent to the program, some of which were shown on the air.

Pro-restart opinions included: “I am concerned about heatstroke due to an electric power shortage,” and “Abolition of nuclear power plants will push industries to transfer overseas.”

Whether such opinions were from people related to Kyushu Electric is unknown.

“The hearing should have been neutral, but it turned out to be fixed,” Manabe said. “I am responsible.”

Kyushu Electric said it informed the central government of the incident on July 6.

“The act completely betrays the program’s purpose to provide varied opinions,” said industry minister Banri Kaieda. “I greatly regret that.”

The incident was raised July 6 during deliberations of the Lower House Budget Committee.

Asked if he was aware of the incident by a Japanese Communist Party member, Prime Minister Naoto Kan said he hadn’t heard about it.

Before the June 26 program was broadcast, some local residents complained that the program would be too short at 90 minutes.

Asked why Kyushu Electric used employees in an attempt to influence public opinion, Manabe said, “We wanted to deepen residents’ understanding of nuclear power’s security and necessity by expressing the operator’s opinions.”

However, part of the e-mail instruction read: “Send opinions and questions …which could win sympathy from the prefecture residents.”

It also said, “Use personal computers from home.”

Manabe admitted that such measures “could only negatively affect the restart of reactors.”

“Criticism arose because the company–which like a carp on the kitchen counter whose fate has already been determined–did such a thing,” said Saga Governor Yasushi Furukawa. “Even if it came from a desire to have residents understand the company’s position, I think it was too much.”

Takehiko Ito, secretary-general of the Saga prefectural chapter of the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party, agreed.

“It is an outrageous act of disloyalty … a manipulation of public opinion,” Ito said. “I will continue to question the credibility of Kyushu Electric’s information and its industrial practices.”

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