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Editorial: Report on Kansai Electric brings reliability as nuke operator into question

A third-party panel investigating the receiving of money by senior Kansai Electric Power Co. (KEPCO) executives has released its final report, which corroborated the abnormally cozy ties between the power company and a local town official.

 

Seventy-five of KEPCO’s high-ranking officials were found to have received cash, gold coins, gift cards and other kinds of gifts worth a total of 360 million yen from a late former deputy mayor of

 

Takahama in the central Japan prefecture of Fukui, which hosts one of the utility’s nuclear power plants. The practice had continued for at least 30 years, starting in 1987.

 

In the results of an in-house probe that KEPCO disclosed in the fall of 2019, the company had denied it had given any favors to the former deputy mayor in return for the gifts, since they had received them merely to satisfy the man’s desire to assert himself.

 

However, the third-party committee’s report acknowledged that the former deputy mayor had the intention of getting kickbacks in the form of KEPCO commissioning companies that he had ties to for construction work.

 

KEPCO officials who received cash and other gifts from the former deputy mayor commissioned work to companies linked to the deputy mayor as directed. The deputy mayor was in turn receiving large sums of consulting fees from those companies. The cozy relationship is obvious, and points to the wrongful backflow of money.

 

Following the Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami, and ongoing nuclear disaster, when funds for nuclear power plant safety measures were raised, the amount of cash and other gifts increased, as did the people subject to receiving them. The amount of nuclear plant-related work received by companies linked to the deputy mayor also rose.

 

Keiichi Tadaki, a former prosecutor general who headed the third-party panel, clearly stated at a press conference that such commissioning of construction work was a wrongful provision of favors. At the same time, he cited the fact that the former deputy mayor was already dead as one of the reasons that it would be difficult to file a criminal complaint.

 

However, according to the report, there were cases suspected to be illegal, in which KEPCO executives directly received money and other goods from the companies that they commissioned to do work for them.

 

To coincide with the release of the report, KEPCO announced that it would be replacing its president. The currently empty position of chairman will be filled by an outsider, in an attempt to improve corporate governance.

 

If KEPCO is thinking that this marks the end of this case, and that it can continue to push forth its nuclear operations as it always has, it is sorely mistaken.

 

In addition to safety, nuclear power plant operators, as public utilities, must ensure managerial transparency and legal compliance.

 

KEPCO’s new senior management must thoroughly investigate whether there have been improper cozy relationships involving its Mihama and Oi nuclear power plants, also in Fukui Prefecture. And if there are, they must be completely eliminated.

 

If a company cannot prove that it has the ability to self-govern, it will not be possible to dispel distrust toward it. It will be deemed disqualified as a nuclear power plant operator.

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