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Japan: Court rejects restart of Takahama nuclear reactors

Published 14 April 2015

Mainichi, April 14, 2015

FUKUI, Japan (Kyodo) — A court issued an injunction on Tuesday ordering Kansai Electric Power Co. not to restart two reactors at its Takahama nuclear power plant on the Sea of Japan coast that have cleared safety screening by the nation’s nuclear safety regulator.

The Fukui District Court’s decision — the first such injunction in Japan forbidding nuclear reactors from resuming operations — concerns the Nos. 3 and 4 reactors at the four-unit complex in Fukui Prefecture, located in an area along Wakasa Bay dotted with several nuclear power plants.

The court said it cannot see credible evidence in the utility’s assumptions regarding earthquake risk.

The injunction is effective immediately. The utility serving Osaka and its surrounding region is expected to appeal the decision, but will not be able to restart the reactors unless its arguments are accepted.

The court decision is likely to affect not only the utility’s resumption plans but also the government’s energy policy, which places nuclear power as a key electricity source despite the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

Kansai Electric hoped to restart the two reactors in November after they cleared a Nuclear Regulation Authority screening in February based on what the Japanese government calls “the world’s toughest safety standards” introduced after the 2011 Fukushima meltdowns.

Presiding Judge Hideaki Higuchi at the district court also presided over a May 2014 ruling by the same court that ordered the regional utility not to restart two reactors at another nuclear power plant in the same prefecture.

In the latest case filed by residents in Fukui and elsewhere in December, they claimed that an unexpected earthquake could cause a severe nuclear accident and spread radioactive materials. Kansai Electric argued that the company has taken sufficient safety measures.

All of Japan’s 48 commercial reactors had gone offline by the end of September 2013 and remain inactive as none has yet completed all procedures required for a restart. Amid persistent safety concerns, the majority of Japanese remain opposed to restarting nuclear reactors.

Power companies are desperate to restart their nuclear plants amid an increase in imported fuel costs for thermal power generation in the absence of nuclear power. Kansai Electric relied heavily on nuclear power for its power generation before the Fukushima crisis triggered by a huge earthquake and tsunami.

Only two other nuclear reactors, owned by Kyushu Electric Power Co., have obtained the regulator’s safety clearance so far.