TOKYO - The president of the utility behind the world's worst nuclear disaster ince Chernobyl said Friday he was stepping down in disgrace after reporting the biggest losses in company history.
Tokyo Electric Power Co. President Masataka Shimizu apologized at his company's Tokyo headquarters and said he was taking responsibility for the nuclear crisis.
"I wanted to take managerial responsibility and bring a symbolic close," he told reporters, bowing several times during the news conference. "We are doing our utmost to settle the crisis."
Three reactors at the company's Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant went into meltdown after a March 11 earthquake triggered a tsunami that destroyed the plant's cooling systems. Efforts to stop leaking radiation and get the reactors under control have been a perilous struggle and are expected to continue into next year.
The move was widely expected as heads of major Japanese companies are expected to step down to take responsibility for even lesser scandals and problems.
TEPCO reported that its losses for the fiscal year ended March 2011 totaled 1.25 trillion yen ($15 billion). TEPCO had a profit of nearly 134 billion yen the previous fiscal year.
Overall losses from the disaster are expected to be far bigger, including compensation for the thousands of people forced to evacuate from their homes around Fukushima Dai-ichi, and businesses such as farms that say products were damaged by radiation.
TEPCO must also shoulder the costs of resolving the problems at the reactors, as well as restarting other kinds of power plants, which aren't nuclear, to make up for the electricity shortfall.
The government has been studying possible bailouts, including using contributions from other utilities and taxpayer money to help TEPCO deal with the towering costs.
TEPCO has been criticized for being unprepared for the tsunami despite some scientific evidence that earthquake-prone Japan could be hit with a wave of that size. It has also been criticized for being slow and lacking transparency in disclosing information about the plant's problems.