National | ANALYSIS

Takahama nuclear restart injunction polarizing

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

A provisional injunction handed down Tuesday by the Fukui District Court against the restarting of Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Takahama No. 3 and 4 reactors is a boost to opponents of nuclear power, even as the decision draws criticism from senior politicians, nuclear regulators, Kepco, and pro-nuclear Japanese media.

A panel of three judges led by Hideaki Higuchi handed down a provisional injunction banning the restart of the two Takahama reactors, saying that the earthquake-risk prediction method used by the Nuclear Regulation Authority in approving the reactors’ restart was flawed.

“It is hard to find, for a nuclear power station that must be prepared for a remotely possible accident, the rationale for establishing a basic earthquake ground motion that is based upon the foundation of the image of a mean earthquake,” the ruling said.

“This signifies that basic earthquake ground motion has lost its reliability (as an assessment method) not only based upon the track record but also, logic.”

The text was welcomed widely by the anti-nuclear camp.

“The great thing about the Fukui court’s ruling is that it’s written in relatively easy-to-understand Japanese. The NRA and Kepco are saying they don’t understand the ruling, but the fact that they don’t understand is strange,” said Yuji Kano, a lawyer who supported those seeking the provisional injunction.

The question now is whether the decision will influence efforts to block the restart of reactors elsewhere.

Whether it becomes an important precedent rests on two factors, one political and one legal.

While not legally required, precedent demands that the utilities seek the “understanding” of local governments hosting the reactors before any restart. Fukui’s local governments are pro-nuclear and anxious to have the reactors restart for economic reasons, but some other localities greeted the news about the provisional injunction with more caution.

In Hokkaido, where Hokkaido Electric is seeking the restart the Tomari nuclear plant, Gov. Harumi Takahashi, who was re-elected on April 12 and has indicated she favored a restart, said Wednesday that she was now unsure if the Fukui decision would effect Tomari.

Those involved in seeking the provisional injunction of the Takahama reactors said Friday that they hoped the decision would spur local governments to think more seriously about evaluating the safety of nuclear plants in their midst rather than just waiting for experts in Tokyo to tell them what to do.

“Here in Kansai, the (seven prefecture, four city) Union of Kansai Governments has said that as far as the safety of nuclear reactors is concerned, not only specialists from the central government but also local safety specialists appointed by local governments should be relied upon to evaluate a broad range of issues like local evacuation plans and to talk about problems related to the overall safety issues affecting the restart of reactors,” said Hidenori Takahashi, one of those involved in seeking the court injunction.

But the legal issue starts with how other courts hearing appeals for provisional injunctions might rule. Tadashi Matsuda, also one of the nine plaintiffs, said he worries the Fukui court ruling could be the exception rather than the precedent.

“The Fukui court judge’s ruling was based on the people’s right to human dignity. But the government and probably most Japanese are living lives based on economic values, and making judgments based on economics,” he said.

“Even if we don’t want judges elsewhere to rule on reactor restarts based on economic values, there’s a possibility the results will be influenced by a priority on economics,” Matsuda said.

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