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Nuclear power debate front and center for Japan's utility shareholders

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Tepco investors head into their annual meeting.   © Kyodo

TOKYO -- Shareholders in many of Japan's utilities are split over the prospect of restarting nuclear power operations -- a discussion complicated by one company's apology for withholding information in the wake of the country's last nuclear disaster.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings, or Tepco, and eight other regional power companies held their annual shareholders meetings Tuesday, where executives attempted to make amends after a rough year. Tepco was revealed earlier this month to have intentionally delayed labeling the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station as in a state of "meltdown" in the wake of 2011's earthquake and tsunami.

That delay "amounted to a cover-up and a betrayal of stakeholders," Chairman Fumio Sudo said. President Naomi Hirose echoed that sentiment, offering an apology and the highlights of an independent panel's investigation into the matter.

Shareholders were divided on the larger question of whether nuclear power generation should be resumed, at times erupting into argument. Those in favor claimed bringing reactors back online would curb rising energy costs. Others opposed, citing the unique danger of nuclear power operations in Japan, where natural disasters are common.

The meeting ran just over three hours, and was attended by 1,321 investors, making it the shortest and smallest since the 2011 disaster.

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Kansai Electric Power Chairman Shosuke Mori opened the company's gathering with his own apology for withholding dividends for a fourth year running. According to President Makoto Yagi, the company hopes to "cut rates, restart dividends and solidify profit in short order."

Shareholders were not shy about pressing management for a change in direction. Osaka Mayor Hirofumi Yoshimura claimed the city's stake in the utility lost around 20 billion yen ($194 million) in value after a court issued an injunction against the restart of two power reactors. Kansai Electric must not pin all of its hopes on a restart, he said.

"We will fulfill our responsibility to resume dividends and cut prices" by "targeting as early a restart as possible," Yagi responded, bringing the matter to a stalemate. The president was appointed chairman at the meeting, with Mori stepping into an advisory role.

Questions on the safety and economy of nuclear power took center stage at Shikoku Electric Power's meeting as well. The utility is working to get one of its reactors in Ehime Prefecture back online. Shareholders submitted four proposals that would shut down or otherwise limit the company's nuclear power operations, citing such factors as high risks and faulty plans to dispose of waste.

The company shot back that nuclear power was indispensable to its strategy going forward, pledging to put its full effort into a safe restart. The four anti-nuclear proposals were defeated. "We were able to win a certain amount of understanding" from shareholders, President Hayato Saeki told a news conference following the meeting.

(Nikkei)

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