A major Japanese power company gave enormous "top secret donations," comprising ratepayer fees, to the country’s leaders for nearly two decades to promote nuclear energy, a former vice president of the firm has revealed.

Chimori Naito told Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper that for 18 years beginning in 1972 the then president and chairman of Kansai Electric Power Co. (TYO:9503), Yoshishige Ashihara, doled out 20 million yen (about $200,000 today) per year to seven prime ministers.

Other influential politicians who provided assistance to Japan’s electric power industry, fuelled largely by nuclear energy before the Fukushima disaster in 2011, also received donations, the newspaper reported.

Until the disaster, which involved meltdowns at a nuclear plant run by a different power company, Kansai Electric used nuclear power to generate about half of its total electricity supply, the paper said.

In May, a Japanese court blocked Kansai Electric from restarting two idled nuclear reactors near Osaka because of their potential vulnerability to earthquakes.

The ruling was a setback for Japan’s government, which wants to end the nationwide nuclear freeze in place since the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear catastrophe, but represented a victory for anti-nuclear activists.

Top secret

Kansai Electric considered that making the political donations was imperative but they were kept “top secret,” Naito said, according to the Asahi.

Donations to individual lawmakers were legal at the time although public opposition pushed electric power companies to declare a ban on such payments in 1974, the paper said.

Naito called the “ban” meaningless.

“There is no way those companies could (ban such donations). Nothing would have happened if we angered politicians,” he said, according to the daily.

Life lesson

Once proud of helping make the donations, Naito, age 91, had a change of heart after Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s (TYO:9501) bungled attempt to deal with the triple meltdown at its Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant three years ago, the newspaper said.

The meltdowns spewed toxic material throughout Japan, sent radioactive "plumes" around the world, contaminated groundwater and displaced thousands of people.

Naito told the newspaper that the Japanese government’s handling of the Fukushima crisis was unforgivable.

"There was a problem in the relationship created over many years among those in the political, bureaucratic and electric power sectors," he said, according to the Asahi.

“As I began to think about my own death, I also recalled the course I had taken in life,” Naito was quoted by the daily as saying.

He said he had never before spoken about the donations but now thought that doing so “would serve as a lesson for future generations.”