11 Avril 2016
April 7, 2016
A court ruling concerning nuclear reactor operations raises serious doubts about whether the court rightly recognized the gravity of the damage and the harsh realities caused by the 2011 accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.
The Miyazaki branch of the Fukuoka High Court on April 6 rejected an appeal by Kyushu residents seeking an injunction to shut down the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors of the Sendai nuclear plant run by Kyushu Electric Power Co. in Satsuma-Sendai, Kagoshima Prefecture. They are the only two reactors currently operating in Japan.
The ruling in essence said the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s (NRA) new safety standards, established after the disaster at the Fukushima plant, reflect the lessons learned from the triple meltdown and cannot be described as unreasonable. It also dismissed the plaintiffs’ argument that the design of the Sendai plant underestimates the safety risks posed by possible major earthquakes.
This ruling stands in sharp contrast with the Otsu District Court’s decision in March that raised doubts about the NRA’s safety standards and ordered the suspension of operations of two reactors at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Takahama nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture.
What happened in Fukushima has created strong anxiety among Japanese about the safety of nuclear power generation. From this point of view, it is obvious which of the two rulings really echoed the public sentiment about nuclear safety.
Symptomatic of the two courts’ different stances toward public concerns are their views about evacuation plans.
The new nuclear safety standards do not address issues related to evacuation plans.
The Otsu District Court raised questions about this fact and contended that the government is obliged to develop new regulatory standards based on a broader perspective that also address evacuation plans.
The Miyazaki branch acknowledged there are legitimate concerns about the existing plan for emergency evacuations.
The plaintiffs argued that the plan would be unable to deal with a situation that requires an immediate and massive evacuation. They also said the number of buses available to transport local residents during nuclear crises would be insufficient.
But the court nevertheless dismissed the plaintiffs’claim that operating the Sendai reactors violates their personal rights. The court pointed out that at least an emergency evacuation plan was in place.
Following the accident in Fukushima, many residents could not smoothly flee for their safety, leading to serious confusion.
The high court’s decision did not give due consideration to this fact.
Volcanoes, including the highly active Sakurajima, are located around the Sendai nuclear plant.
The NRA has established guidelines concerning the risks to nuclear plants posed by volcanic eruptions.
The high court judged the guidelines, based on the assumption that the timing and scale of eruptions can be accurately predicted, to be “irrational.”
Yet the court said the probability of an eruption triggering a catastrophic nuclear accident was so low that the risk can be ignored unless solid grounds for thinking otherwise are shown.
The court acknowledged the NRA’s flawed approach to dealing with the safety risk posed by volcanic eruptions. But it said the widely accepted view in society is that the risk can be ignored because of the low probability of such eruptions actually occurring.
Can this be described as an opinion based on serious reflection on the fact that unforeseen circumstances occurred at the Fukushima plant?
The exact causes of the nuclear disaster are not yet clear, and around 100,000 people are still living as evacuees.
That explains why various opinion polls show a majority of respondents expressing negative views about plans to restart reactors.
The court ruling that endorses the NRA’s new safety standards does not translate into public support of the government’s policy to bring idled reactors back on stream.
The sharply different court rulings on reactor operations should be regarded as a sign that the knotty question of how to secure safety at nuclear plants remains unsolved.