SENDAI – The Sendai High Court on Tuesday upheld a lower court decision and rejected demands by a group of citizens that government approval be revoked for the country’s only commercial uranium enrichment plant.
The three-judge panel, led by Judge Hiroshi Ohashi, dismissed the appeal filed by 77 residents against the March 2002 district court decision.
The high court had widened qualifications for plaintiffs in the suit to people living within 20 km of the uranium enrichment plant in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture.
The district court had ruled that 157 of the 171 people from across Japan who filed the suit did not qualify as plaintiffs because they lived too far from the facility. Only 14 residents of the village of Rokkasho and the neighboring town of Yokohama were able to continue as plaintiffs.
However, the high court also accepted residents from the towns of Tohoku and Noheji in Aomori Prefecture as plaintiffs.
The Aomori District Court dismissed the suit in March 2002, ruling the government’s safety checks had been appropriate.
The district court dismissed the plaintiffs’ argument that the Rokkasho plant should not have been approved because the facility was vulnerable to massive earthquakes, plane crashes and major nuclear accidents.
The court said the government’s safety examination was “legitimate” and “flawless.”
The government gave the green light in 1988 for Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. to begin operating the plant and the suit against it was filed the following year.
The plant, the first in Japan to commercially produce enriched uranium as fuel for nuclear power, began operating in 1992.
During the lower court litigation, the plaintiffs said the government did not use the latest quake data when it conducted its safety review. They also said the plant’s resistance to earthquake was inadequate because it was the same as ordinary buildings.
They argued there was a strong possibility of an airplane crashing into the facility as it is located about 28 km north of the Misawa air base and 10 km north of a firing range. The base is used by the U.S. Air Force and the Air Self-Defense Force.
The government countered it had used the latest quake data and quake resistance did not need to be the same as for nuclear plants because the danger to the facility, which does not have a reactor, was smaller.
The government said a plane crash was unlikely because military drills take place far from the facility and planes generally are banned from flying over the plant.
The citizens have filed other suits asking the Aomori District Court to revoke government approval for the operations of three other nuclear facilities in Rokkasho — a low-level radioactive waste disposal plant, a high-level radioactive waste storage facility and a spent nuclear fuel reprocessing plant. The court has yet to rule on those cases.