Chris Frederick

TEPCO's Game of Whack-a-Mole

September 07, 2013

When I first read that Japanese government officials had denounced the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) by drawing an analogy between its Fukushima cleanup efforts and a game of whack-a-mole, I have to admit that I initially enjoyed a bit of schadenfreude at TEPCO’s expense. It’s refreshing to see a company that has caused so much disruption to Japanese families finally get some kind of comeuppance—even if only in the form of a mild verbal lashing.

Once I got over my knee-jerk reaction, however, it gradually dawned on me that this is actually quite a boon for TEPCO. Bad press over the utility’s incompetence doesn’t change the fact that TEPCO’s plants power a third of Japan. Consumers are stuck with TEPCO whether they like it or not. We may laugh at the analogy between TEPCO and children playing whack-a-mole, but I imagine that the TEPCO executives are laughing too—all the way to the bank. In fact, they must be overjoyed that the government has decided to step in and take over the cleanup efforts, because this means that the financial burden of cleanup has been shifted from TEPCO to the Japanese taxpayer (in much the same way as the losses sustained by the U.S. financial system in 2007 were ultimately borne by the U.S. taxpayer). Furthermore, any failures in the cleanup effort will now be blamed on the Japanese government instead of TEPCO.

I can’t help but think of the following Calvin and Hobbes comic.

Calvin shoveling snow

“If you do the job badly enough, sometimes you don’t get asked to do it again.”

Indeed.