Thursday, March 31, 2011

Vanishing act by Japanese executive during nuclear crisis raises questions

In normal times, Masataka Shimizu lives in The Tower, a luxury high-rise in the same upscale Tokyo district as the U.S. Embassy. But he hasn’t been there for more than two weeks, according to a doorman.

The Japanese public hasn’t seen much of him recently either. Shimizu, the president of Tokyo Electric Power Co., or Tepco, the company that owns a haywire nuclear power plant 150 miles from the capital, is the most invisible — and most reviled — chief executive in Japan.

Amid rumors that Shimizu had fled the country, checked into a hospital or committed suicide, company officials said Monday that their boss had suffered an unspecified “small illness” because of overwork after a 9.0-magnitude earthquake sent a tsunami crashing onto his company’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

After a short break to recuperate, they said, Shimizu, 66, is back at work directing an emergency command center on the second floor of Tepco’s central Tokyo headquarters.

Still, company officials are vague about whether they have actually seen their boss: “I’ll have to check on that,” said spokesman Ryo Shimitsu. Another staffer, Hiro Hasegawa, said he’d seen the president regularly but couldn’t provide details. (read more)