TOKYO — The president of Japan’s embattled Tokyo Electric Power Co. resigned Friday, taking responsibility for a nuclear crisis that forced 80,000 to evacuate their homes, caused record fiscal losses and left the country with a long-term energy shortage.
Masataka Shimizu’s decision to step down came as the giant utility company announced losses of $15 billion for the fiscal year that ended in March. Shimizu had hinted last month that he would resign once the nuclear emergency abated, and he told reporters on Friday that he wished to “take managerial responsibility and bring a symbolic close” to the crisis.
Toshio Nishizawa, Tepco’s managing director, will take Shimizu’s place.
Shimizu, 66, had disappeared from public view for weeks after the nuclear crisis, with Tepco saying in late March that the president had been hospitalized with hypertension and fatigue. By the time Shimizu reemerged, the company faced a torrent of criticism for its struggles to stabilize damaged and leaking nuclear reactors, secure worker safety and draft a timetable for evacuees to return to their homes.
Since a March 11 earthquake and tsunami triggered the nuclear crisis, Tepco shares have lost roughly 80 percent of their value. A government-backed fund will save the massive utility company from collapse, with the help of taxpayer money and contributions from other utility companies. But Tepco will wind up paying tens of billions of dollars in compensation for evacuees who’ve lost their homes and businesses; the company could be forced to cut salaries and pensions, while also selling off its other holdings.
For the 2009 fiscal year, Tepco reported a net income of roughly $16 billion.
Shimizu became president in 2008, but he’s spent his entire career at Tepco, joining just weeks after college graduation. In recent weeks, Shimizu tried to make a series of high-profile apologies, traveling to evacuation centers, where he bowed deeply to residents.
But Tepco has a spotty safety record, and the company ignored warnings that its Fukushima Daiichi plant lacked sufficient protection against a massive tsunami. This week Prime Minister Naoto Kan suggested that he would review the corporate structure of Japan’s current energy system, which depends on regional monopolies.