Plans to bring Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Takahama No. 3 and 4 nuclear reactors back online were dealt a severe setback Tuesday when the Fukui District Court ordered that they not be restarted, citing safety concerns.
It marks the first time in Japan’s nearly half-century of commercial atomic power operations that a court has approved a provisional injunction against firing up reactors.
The decision comes despite the Nuclear Regulation Authority appraising the reactors against technical and safety criteria and clearing them for restart last November.
The provisional injunction, unlike civil suit rulings, took effect immediately and remains valid until it is suspended or a request for a stay of execution is approved. Kepco plans to appeal the order and request a stay of execution.
The injunction is expected to push back Kepco’s schedule — it originally envisaged restarting the reactors this November — but the longer term impact is unclear.
For Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, resuming nuclear power is key to domestic revitalization, particularly the success of his “Abenomics” policy mix.
In its ruling, the court challenged Kepco’s assertion that the reactors were safe. Presiding Judge Hideaki Higuchi, who in a regular lawsuit last year ruled that the Oi No. 3 and 4 units not be restarted, said Kepco had not shown evidence its earthquake simulation data, which were used to conduct the safety evaluation, could be relied upon.
“This ruling is a giant step for efforts to abolish nuclear power, and, in practice, stops the restart of the reactors,” said lawyers representing nine people seeking the injunction.
“I was not that surprised, as we had indications that the court would rule in our favor,” said Atsuko Nishimura, one of the nine.
Part of the reason for the lack of complete surprise was that Nishimura and those seeking the injunctions felt that Higuchi, at least, might be on their side. So did Kepco, which undertook legal efforts to remove him. Those attempts failed last week when a high court rejected an appeal to overturn a lower court’s dismissal of a move to unseat them.
In a statement, Kepco expressed regret over the decision but said it remained determined to restart the Takahama reactors.
“We’re preparing to file the necessary papers to get the injunction lifted at the earliest possible date and will make efforts to stress the safety of the reactors,” the utility said.
Pro-nuclear Fukui Gov. Issei Nishikawa, who was elected to a fourth term on Sunday, had no comment on the ruling and only addressed the safety issue in a written statement.
“The government is pursuing the restart of those reactors whose safety has been confirmed by the NRA. Fukui will respond to the ruling by sufficiently confirming the central government’s and Kepco’s response, and by making safety the top priority,” Nishikawa said.
Kyoto-based anti-nuclear activist Aileen Mioko Smith said the ruling would likely have a huge political impact on restart plans elsewhere. But she added that she hoped the injunction will also influence nuclear safety policy at the NRA.
“The (injunction) ruling is a preventative measure. Seismologists have warned this area could see another big earthquake. To have an injunction will, hopefully, prevent another nuclear disaster like Fukushima, or worse,” she said.
Update: This story was updated on April 15, 2015, to add information on the system of provisional injunction that was missing from the original story.