Japan power company has troubled history

An aerial view shows the quake-damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant in the Japanese town of Futaba, Fukushima.

CHIOTAKIS: The head of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission says no changes are needed in American nuclear policy, for now. And that all reactors in this country are safe. In Japan, the operator of the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant, Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, has been under the microscope. And this isn't the first time.

As we continue to cover the human and economic toll in Japan, Marketplace's Asia Bureau Chief Rob Schmitz is with us from Tokyo with the latest. Hey Rob.

ROB SCHMITZ: Hey Steve from a pretty shaking Tokyo. We just had another aftershock.

CHIOTAKIS: Oooh. Are you guys okay?

SCHMITZ: Yeah we are. It shook a long time though. It's a pretty big one.

CHIOTAKIS: All right. Well, tell us a little bit about this company TEPCO Rob and walk us through what happened at that plant.

SCHMITZ: Well, TEPCO's the fourth largest power company in the world. It's the biggest one in Japan. And it currently owns a third of the electricity market in Japan and runs three nuclear power plants. The Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant that's now leaking radiation was its first nuclear plant. And that plant has six reactors. TEPCO's had problems with its other reactors before. A few years ago it was forced to shut down another plant after an earthquake. At that time, TEPCO said the plant hadn't been designed to cope with such a large quake. It's also been caught falsifying nuclear safety data at least 200 times, and it's had a former president and board members step down because of those problems.

CHIOTAKIS: You know Rob, is this going to change the mix of power reliance in Japan? Is the country going to shy away from nuclear?

SCHMITZ: Well today I spoke to Hirotaka Yama-uchi about this. He's an expert on Japan's nuclear power industry. At first we talked about the politicians in Japan all the way up the chain to Prime Minister Naoto Kan who've been criticizing TEPCO and saying something needs to change. But Yamauchi put this into perspective:

CHIOTAKIS: So, here he's saying that politicians may be angry and irritated, but they're just showing off. He can't imagine they'd actually change the policy toward nuclear power and go an entirely different direction with Japan's energy mix.

SCHMITZ: And it should be noted that Japan produces virtually no domestic fossil fuels and it's always strived to be self-reliant when it comes to energy, so nuclear power was a way to accomplish that. In fact, before this disaster, Prime Minister Kan vowed to increase the percentage of electricity nuclear power provides to Japan from a third -- which is where it's currently at -- to 70 percent. And Yamauchi says, despite all the current problems at Fukushima, he doesn't think that goal is going to change.

CHIOTAKIS: All right. Marketplace's Rob Schmitz in Tokyo. Rob thank you.

SCHMITZ: Thanks Steve.

About the author

Rob Schmitz is Marketplace’s China correspondent in Shanghai.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...