JAPAN | Utility’s e-mails ‘up pressure’ / Kyushu Electric attaches file urging support for reactor restart

Posted on August 1, 2011

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JAPAN | YOMIURI SHIMBUN | 1 August 2011

Kyushu Electric Power Co. attached to e-mails a file in which Saga Gov. Yasushi Furukawa is quoted as calling on more people to press for the restart of nuclear reactors, it has been learned.

There seems no doubt that Furukawa‘s comments influenced Kyushu Electric to send e-mails to its own employees and staff of affiliated companies calling on them to e-mail support to a public forum over early resumption of nuclear reactors at the Genkai nuclear power plant in Saga Prefecture.

Kyushu Electric is suspected of placing importance on Furukawa’s comments in the hope of eliciting more positive opinions in favor of restarting the Nos. 2 and 3 reactors, a third-party panel chaired by former prosecutor Nobuo Gohara said Saturday.

“In retrospect, my behavior can’t escape being censured as thoughtless,” Furukawa said at a press conference Saturday.

According to Gohara and Furukawa, three Kyushu Electric officials–then Vice President Mamoru Dangami; then general manager of the nuclear power generation division, Masatoshi Morooka; and the chief of Saga branch, Kiyoharu Otsubo–arrived at the Saga prefectural government office at about 8:40 a.m. on June 21, and were shown to the governor’s office.

After Dangami and Morooka told the governor during the courtesy visit they planned to resign, they started discussing the restart of the Genkai plant’s reactors, including an upcoming government-sponsored cable TV program that would feature opinions from local residents on the issue. The TV program was aired on June 26.

At the meeting, Furukawa told them: “The opinions of people in favor of [restarting the reactors] have not been heard,” and “It’s important to make the opinions or those supporting the restart [of the reactors] known to the public,” sources said.

After leaving the governor’s office, they discussed what the governor had said over lunch and agreed to devise a plan to increase the number of positive views at an explanatory meeting for the TV program, they said.

Otsubo took notes of the conversation with Furukawa after returning to the utility’s Saga branch under the instructions of Dangami.

Furukawa, meanwhile, has said he did not mean to ask the executives to send e-mails to fake support on the restart of the reactors.

However, Gohara said, “According to the notes, the governor said: ‘I hope [you make efforts] to send out positive views via the Internet.'”

The memo was attached to e-mails created on June 22 by a Kyushu Electric midlevel manager, and sent to about 100 staff of its nuclear energy department. E-mail recipients were asked to open the attached file.

On the evening of July 8–two days after the e-mail scandal broke, Kyushu Electric Chairman Shingo Matsuo called up Furukawa and asked about the notes. Furukawa said, “I didn’t say anything like that,” according to sources.

However, Furukawa telephoned Matsuo on July 13, and said, “When I think back on the issue, I think I made remarks [suggesting we should have more positive opinions to restart the reactors],” the sources said.

Former Chiba University Prof. Muneyuki Shindo said Furukawa’s remarks indicate he lacks responsibility, as a governor as his actions are not socially acceptable.

“Because of his position, Furukawa should not have made comments concerning a TV program that tries to influence the prefecture’s residents. However, Kyushu Electric’s behavior shows the firm significantly lacks a sense of propriety,” he said.

When asked at a press conference Saturday whether Furukawa thought his remarks influenced Kyushu Electric, he said, “I told Kyushu Electric officials we should have more [positive] opinions from financial circles, but now I think my behavior cannot escape being censured as thoughtless.

“I don’t think I should have met them [utility officials] at the time [when restarting the reactors was being discussed.]”

Furukawa said he did not think the e-mails in question were sent because of what he said to the Kyushu Electric officials. “I don’t know how they took my remarks. I want to wait for an opinion by the third-party panel,” he said.

When asked if he expressed determination to restart the reactors during the meeting with the Kyushu Electric’s officials, he did not deny this. “If the requirements are met, I still think it’s necessary to restart the reactors,” he said.

Regarding why he had not publicly mentioned the meeting, he said: “The facts of the matter were not completely clear. I thought the best timing to mention the meeting was after the third-party panel was established.”

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