Energy in Japan
Bright ideas needed
Japan’s power monopolies raise costs and stifle innovation
Sep 17th 2011 | TOKYO | from the print edition
THE corridors were dark, the air uncomfortably hot. The lights at the headquarters of the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) were largely switched off; the air-conditioners were turned down. Even the chief executive, Toshio Nishizawa, had removed his tie for an interview on September 5th. In normal times, that would be a glaring breach of Japanese corporate etiquette, but these are not normal times.
Since the earthquake and tsunami of March 11th, most nuclear reactors in Japan have been shut down for maintenance and not restarted: 43 out of 54 remain idle. There has been a national drive for setsuden (conserving energy). TEPCO must be seen to share the pain.
The company is staggeringly unpopular. One of its nuclear plants at Fukushima was damaged on March 11th. In the crucial hours after the tsunami, TEPCO failed to add water to cool the reactor cores. It was unable to restore steady back-up power until days later and inexplicably delayed venting a build-up of pressure that eventually led to hydrogen explosions.
As if that were not bad enough, TEPCO withheld information from everyone, including the then prime minister, Naoto Kan, who stormed into its headquarters yelling: “What the hell is going on?” A meltdown began several hours after the tsunami struck, but wasn’t officially disclosed until nine weeks later. “We have lost trust,” admits Mr Nishizawa. Regaining it will take “a long, long time”, he adds.