Sunday, July 10, 2011

10/07 E-mail scandal could amplify distrust of N-power

The Yomiuri Shimbun

If they thought they could use the deception to increase support for restarting nuclear reactors, the idea was extremely ill-advised.

This is in reference to the e-mail scandal involving Kyushu Electric Power Co., in which the utility sought to manipulate public opinion to favor reactivation of its Genkai nuclear power plant in Saga Prefecture.

Prior to a public hearing for prefectural residents about the Genkai plant that was aired live via a local cable TV station in late June, Kyushu Electric instructed some of its employees, as well as staff of the company's subsidiaries, to send e-mails to the TV program in support of restarting the plant's reactors.

To raise support among prefectural residents for the reactors' reactivation, the utility also called on the employees to send the e-mails from their home computers to hide their identities as employees of Kyushu Electric or its subsidiaries and to pose as members of the general public.


Not a request but an order

There can be no doubt that the sending of the e-mails under the guise of ordinary residents of the prefecture was perpetrated systematically.

The document sent to the recipients asking them to send the messages was in the form of a "request." But judging from the power relationship between Kyushu Electric's management, its employees and its subsidiaries, the recipients must have felt the document was more like an order.

It was subsequently revealed that one of the vice presidents and other executives of Kyushu Electric were involved in the scheme to manipulate public opinion. Suspicion is very high that the e-mail scheme might have been carried out by Kyushu Electric as a whole. The hearing's purpose of listening fairly to opinions of the prefectural residents was made meaningless.

Kyushu Electric President Toshio Manabe apologized Friday to Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Banri Kaieda over the e-mail scandal, but it will be extremely difficult for the company to restore public trust.

Kyushu Electric must waste no time in finding out the whole truth about the matter. Thorough investigations are needed to determine whether the company engaged in similar deceptive activities in the past. Managerial responsibility should also be clarified, including the advisability of the company's president stepping down.

Making the problem worse is the fact that the company at first tried to cover it up.


'Is it such a big problem?'

The deputy head of Kyushu Electric's nuclear power generation department, when he attended a session of the Kagoshima Prefectural Assembly on Monday as a witness, categorically denied irregularities involving e-mails sent to the TV program, saying the company had "never asked anybody for anything" in connection with the hearing.

On Wednesday, when the issue was taken up in Diet deliberations, President Manabe belatedly held a press conference. Asked about his involvement in the scandal, Manabe repeatedly said, "No comment," before finally saying, "Is it such a big problem?" His attitude is extremely insincere considering he is in a position to explain the matter in detail.

Amid the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, criticism of electric power utilities as a whole has been intensifying. The e-mail scandal could amplify the public's distrust of the nation's nuclear reactors.

On the other hand, anxieties have been growing that electricity shortages will worsen in the future. Reactivation of reactors after completion of their regular safety inspections is impossible without consent from local residents. Electric power utilities, therefore, must redouble efforts to restore public trust by enhancing transparency of their operations.

There have been many scandals involving nuclear reactors because of failure to disclose information, such as cover-ups of accidents and falsification of safety-check data.

Are electric power companies still unable to rid themselves of the tendency to cover up facts disadvantageous to them? They should do more soul-searching about the matter.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 9, 2011)

(Jul. 10, 2011)

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