11 Mars 2016
March 10, 2016
OSAKA – Wednesday’s decision by an Otsu District Court judge to slap a provisional injunction on the restart of the No. 3 and 4 reactors at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Takahama nuclear plant has sent a shock through the nuclear power industry.
Moreover, pro-nuclear politicians fear that the nation’s push to restart as many reactors as possible as quickly as possible has come to a halt.
On the eve of the fifth anniversary of the 2011 disaster, which included the meltdown of three reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 plant and led to the nation suspending its use of nuclear power for an extended period, only two reactors, Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai No. 1 and 2 reactors, were generating electricity.
The Takahama No. 3 reactor was restarted in January. Kepco officials said it would be shut down in accordance with the court order by Thursday evening.
The No. 4 reactor was already idle after a malfunction forced Kepco to abandon its restart last month.
The Otsu court said the shutdowns were ordered partially because Kepco failed to submit documentation backing up its claims that the reactors meet new safety standards.
One of the most significant aspects of Wednesday’s ruling was that the judge sided with the plaintiffs over whether or not Kepco’s earthquake prediction methods were valid.
The court found Kepco’s standards and conclusions for what is the most “probable” and the “average” quake to not be backed up by sufficient documentation.
“This is a central point in other lawsuits elsewhere in Japan that are trying to halt restarts. The fact that the Otsu judge sided with the plaintiffs on this point will have an effect nationwide,” said Hiroyuki Kawai and Yuichi Kaido, who head a group of nationwide lawyers fighting for Japan to pull the plug on nuclear power.
What happens next? Kepco can file an objection to the ruling with the Otsu court, which would decide to either uphold or dismiss it. If the injunction is dismissed, the reactors can be restarted.
But upholding the ruling likely means Kepco would appeal to the Osaka High Court for a review of the lower court ruling. Regardless, the entire legal process would take many months, and possibly years, with no clear path to restarts.
That possibility is distressing local leaders in Fukui, who approved the restarts in the expectation that central government financial assistance would begin to flow again.
It is the second time a provisional injunction has been placed on the Takahama reactors. Last year, one was issued and then withdrawn by a separate court.
On Wednesday, Fukui Gov. Issei Nishikawa criticized the injunction.
“We at the local level take the problems of nuclear power seriously,” he said. “The repetition of the courts shutting them down and then overturning the decision and then shutting them down again is cause for concern about a loss of trust and create unease among residents.”
The Otsu ruling also calls on the national government to take the lead in formulating evacuation plans for residents within 30 km of a nuclear plant, and not just leave such planning to local governments.
That raises the possibility of further lawsuits seeking injunctions against other reactors on the grounds that the central government has not taken the lead in formulating evacuation plans. Nationwide, there are 135 cities, towns, and villages in 21 prefectures within 30 km of nuclear power plants.