| TOKYO, July 19
TOKYO, July 19 The new head of the company at
the centre of Japan's nuclear disaster said on Thursday he was
baffled by fierce criticism of the firm where he has worked
nearly 40 years and hoped to rebuild public trust but offered no
clear idea how to do so.
In a scathing report issued this month, an investigative
panel appointed by parliament concluded that the last year's
Fukushima disaster was preventable and resulted from "collusion"
among Tokyo Electric Power Co, its regulators and the
"You can destroy trust in a single day but to rebuild it
takes time," the 59-year-old Yale-educated president of Tepco,
Naomi Hirose, told a packed news conference of foreign and
"Of course, it is a question whether we can regain trust,"
said Hirose, who joined the company in 1976.
He has taken over Tepco's key post at a time when
anti-nuclear protests are growing, ruling party lawmakers are
bolting over a decision to restart idled reactors despite safety
fears and the government is nationalising the struggling
The nuclear issue has increasingly taken centre-stage in
political debate ahead of parliamentary elections which could
come later this year. On Monday, an estimated 100,000
anti-nuclear protesters took to the streets in Tokyo, adding to
pressure on the government which is under fire over its handling
of nuclear policy issues.
Wearing a grey suit and blue tie, the diminutive,
grey-haired Hirose spoke in fluent English for 15 minutes before
responding to questions in his native Japanese.
The once well-respected utility has been widely castigated
for its failure to prepare for the massive tsunami that
devastated its Fukushima plant last year, lampooned for its
inept response to the reactor meltdowns, and denigrated for its
Asked about that panel report's conclusion, Hirose initially
responded that the report was one of three investigations
including the company's own and they had all arrived at
When pressed, he added:
"We have read the report and seen this word 'collusion'.
However, on what basis, or for what reason, this word is being
used we have not been able to fully grasp," he said.
"We will go back and read the report again more carefully
and if it turns out the facts are different to the facts we have
presented then we might adjust our conclusions."
Hirose was also grilled over what critics say is Tepco's
tendency to cover things up, a common charge against a company
that admitted in 2007 that it had faked safety reports and
hidden defects at its reactors for decades.
He acknowledged that there was a "a very large perception
gap" between the company's view of itself and the way the public
sees it. "We have to close that gap," he said.
By his own account, doing so won't be easy.
One of Hirose's first acts as president was to talk to
evacuees at a high school who had fled from the radiation plume
that spouted from the company's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant
after an earthquake and tsunami caused meltdowns in March 201l.
At one of the meetings, a moderate earthquake struck and he
was quickly peppered with questions about the safety of a badly
damaged building at Fukushima full of spent fuel rods.
That was "quite a shock for us," Hirose said, because the
company assumed its reinforcement work has been sufficient.
Fukushima's spent fuel pool No. 4 has been a source of
international concern because they are exposed to the atmosphere
after one of the explosions that hit the station tore the
reactor building roof off and caused its walls to tilt.
"It gave me renewed resolve that we should make more efforts
to remove people's anxieties and concerns," he said.
(Editing by Jonathan Thatcher)