- - Wednesday, May 25, 2011

TOKYO — In a stuffy room at the headquarters of the Tokyo Electric Power Co., many of the 250 Japanese journalists were furious at the executives lined up in crisp blue uniforms.

The reporters, mostly young men, demanded answers from the executives — exhausted older men seemingly from a different culture. Some reporters called on the executives to give back their salaries and swank vacation resorts. Others made long speeches listing the executives’ alleged misdemeanors, and they refused to heed a Tepco moderator imploring them to stop.

Reporters, protesters, evacuees and others are increasingly showing anger and losing their trust in Japanese authorities, who for years could count on an apathetic public to let them take care of things behind the scenes.

But the compliant public gradually changed after the March 11 earthquake, which spawned a massive tsunami that knocked out power at Tepco’s nuclear reactors and spread radiation in northeastern Japan.

When Masataka Shimizu resigned as president of Tepco on Friday, he apologized for “having shattered public trust about nuclear power and for having caused so many problems and fears for the people.”

Reporters were not satisfied with the latest apologies, especially after Mr. Shimizu, 66, said he would stay on as “an unpaid adviser.”

Sakae Muto, head of Tepco’s nuclear division, also resigned, and Mr. Shimizu named company insider Toshio Nishizawa, 60, to take his place. Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, 71, who took over while Mr. Shimizu was mysteriously absent for 10 days after the March 11 disasters, will maintain his post.

Many reporters asked why the executives should stay on after the company reported losses this fiscal year of $15 billion — one of the biggest financial disasters ever for Japan’s corporate world.

Japanese executives often resign because of smaller issues, and beleaguered companies such as Japan Airlines have brought in outsiders to inject fresh blood during difficult times.

The reactor disaster has triggered a drop of more than 80 percent in Tepco’s share prices and forced the company to seek government aid, as it faces compensation liabilities that some analysts say could top $100 billion.

Long known for their deference to elders and bosses, many Japanese are increasingly disparaging leaders on chat sites and social media such as Mixi, a sort of Japanese version of Facebook. Protesters have spread messages about nuclear energy and animal rights to other cities.

The Atomic Energy Society of Japan, a nationwide conference of nuclear scientists, said the authorities “are seen holding back information and have lost credibility.”

Japan’s elite financial newspaper, the Nihon Keizai Shimbun, has joined the criticism.

“The way Tepco releases information utterly lacks any sense of crisis,” the daily said in a front-page analysis. “Two months after the accident happened, it admitted a meltdown at reactor 1. They do not mention bad news until it is confirmed. Such an attitude has led to mistrust.”

Some authorities themselves are expressing frustration at the lack of straight talk about the situation in Japan.

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