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Oi ruling may fuel anti-nuclear push

Plaintiffs elated as district court prioritizes rights over profits

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Wednesday’s court ruling blocking restarts of the No. 3 and 4 reactors at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Oi plant may embolden opponents of nuclear power nationwide.

It creates a legal precedent and could fuel resistance to restarts, throwing into question whether the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will be able to push ahead with them as swiftly as planned.

The government earlier asserted that the ruling, by the Fukui District Court, would have no impact on its plans.

Kepco announced Thursday it has appealed the lower court’s decision to the Kanazawa branch of the Nagoya High Court. There, the case could take two or three years to be decided.

If the High Court upholds the decision, the question is whether Kepco will appeal to the Supreme Court, a process that would delay the fate of the two reactors even more.

Technically, until the ruling is finalized, Kepco could still restart the reactors if they clear the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s safety checks.

“Of course we knew they’d appeal. Kepco is a disgrace,” said Tadashi Matsuda, one of the lead plaintiffs at a meeting in Osaka Thursday morning.

Kepco came under intense criticism from the Fukui court, which said the utility had made optimistic safety projections with no clear evidence. But in a move that could have ramifications nationwide, the court also ruled that 166 plaintiffs living within a 250-km radius of the Oi plant faced concrete dangers from the operation of nuclear power stations.

That could open the door to lawsuits from anyone living within 250 km of a nuclear plant, if the Fukui court’s decision is used as the basis for a claim that other utilities, as well as the Nuclear Regulation Authority, have created inadequate safety measures to deal with the possibility of an accident.

The entire Kansai region, most of Chubu, including Nagoya, much of Chugoku, including Hiroshima, and roughly a third of Shikoku lies within 250 km of the Oi plant.

Plaintiffs were particularly happy the court ruling included language that said providing electricity via nuclear plants is a mere economic activity, and as such has a lower priority than personal rights.

Therefore, the ruling said, even if there is only a very slight clearly defined danger to this right, it’s only natural that an injunction to stop the restart be authorized.

In Fukui itself, the reaction to the verdict was greeted with concern by the pro-nuclear governor and local Oi politicians, who worry that the longer the reactors are down, the greater the local economy will suffer. It relies heavily on nuclear-related central government subsidies and job and business contracts.

Fukui Gov. Issei Nishikawa defended the plant, saying that, since the Oi No. 3 and 4 units were restarted in summer 2012 without incident, they were proven safe. But Oi Mayor Hiroshi Nakatsuka said the town would accept the ruling.

Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto welcomed the decision, which is likely to create further tensions between the mayor, long a critic of Kepco and of nuclear power, and the utility, whose largest shareholder is the city.

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