Angry scenes as Japan's Tepco shareholders demand end to nuclear power plants

Members of environmental group Greenpeace wearing radiation protection suits are asked by Tepco staff to move away from the entrance of a company shareholders' meeting in Tokyo on Thursday. Activists wore full protective suits and industrial fac
Members of environmental group Greenpeace wearing radiation protection suits are asked by Tepco staff to move away from the entrance of a company shareholders' meeting in Tokyo on Thursday. Activists wore full protective suits and industrial face masks to remind shareholders what families who lived near Fukushima - where three reactors went into meltdown after an earthquake-sparked tsunami in 2011 - must wear to check on their homes. -- PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (AFP) - Furious shareholders of the company that runs Japan's crippled Fukushima nuclear power station joined campaigners on Thursday to demand the permanent closure of the utility's atomic plants as it held its annual meeting.

Dozens of demonstrators with loud speakers and banners said Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco), which wants to restart some of the reactors at the world's largest nuclear plant, amongst others, must act to not repeat the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi disaster.

There was pushing and shoving between security guards and demonstrators as they tried to approach shareholders going into the gathering.

Activists from conservation group Greenpeace wore full protective suits and industrial face masks to remind shareholders what families who lived near Fukushima - where three reactors went into meltdown after an earthquake-sparked tsunami - must wear to check on their homes.

Mr Katsutaka Idogawa, former mayor of Futaba town, which hosts the plant, lashed out at supporters of nuclear power, including Tepco's management, urging them to put their own ancestral land at risk.

"Why don't you get exposed to radiation yourself? Why don't you lose your homeland?" he asked as shareholders filed into Tokyo International Forum for the company's annual meeting.

His town remains evacuated because of elevated levels of radiation, amid expectations that it will be decades before it is safe to return, if ever.

Mr Idogawa, who bought Tepco shares last year, said the firm has been slow to offer compensation to those who lost homes, jobs, farms and their communities, and that which has been offered has been inadequate.

"You don't pay enough compensation and don't take responsibility (for the accident). I can't forgive you!" he said.

The sentiment was echoed during the meeting by fellow shareholders whose communities host other nuclear plants.

A woman from Niigata prefecture, where Tepco hopes to start a major power station, also expressed her desire for the utility to end nuclear energy.

"Are we going to make the same mistake that we had in Fukushima, also in Niigata?" she said.

"Fellow shareholders, please support this proposal of scrapping the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant... and revitalising the site with plans for renewable energy," she said.

Japan's entire stable of 48 working reactors is offline, shuttered for safety checks in the months after the 2011 disaster.

The government and electricity companies, like Tepco, would like to fire them up again, but public unease has so far prevented that, as has a new, toothier watchdog.

Tepco has argued that restarting selected reactors at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, the world's largest nuclear power plant, is the key to ensuring the company's survival as it battles huge costs.

The calls for an end to nuclear power were expected to be rejected by Tepco, which is majority-owned by a government-backed fund designed to rescue it.

The government has poured billions of dollars into Tepco to keep afloat a company that supplies electricity to Tokyo and its surrounding area, as it stumps up cash for decommissioning the reactors, cleaning up the mess they have made and paying compensation.

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