KAGOSHIMA – The Kagoshima District Court on Wednesday dismissed a provisional injunction to block the restart of two more nuclear reactors in the prefecture, brushing aside the concerns of local residents worried about the safety of the plant.
The decision clears another hurdle for reactors at the Sendai Nuclear Power Plant to begin starting up as early as June, as the government pushes to revive Japan’s idled nuclear industry four years after the disaster in Fukushima began.
The ruling stands in sharp contrast to last week’s decision by the Fukui District Court to block the restart of reactors at the Takahama plant in Fukui Prefecture over safety concerns.
The Kagoshima District Court found no “irrationalities” in new safety standards adopted after the 2011 Fukushima meltdowns, ruling in favor of the plant operator.
The Kyushu Electric Power Co. plans to fire up one of the reactors in July, a watershed moment for the nation as it would be the first reactor restart under the revised rules.
The court’s decision could inject momentum into the government’s policy to restart nuclear power plants that have passed the safety standards, although the public remains divided on the matter.
Plaintiffs, including residents near the Sendai plant, are expected to appeal the ruling, their lawyers said.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, the top government spokesman, said there will be no change in the government’s policy of bringing the Sendai nuclear power plant back online. All 48 of Japan’s commercial reactors remain offline amid heightened public concerns about safety following the triple meltdown at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No.1 plant.
Four years after a quake and tsunami wrecked that facility, prompting mass evacuations, the Sendai reactors operated by Kyushu Electric have cleared most of the regulatory hurdles and could begin starting up as early as June.
The focus of the court case was on whether the operator of the Sendai plant has adequate measures in place to guard against earthquakes and whether it had weighed the chance of a volcano erupting nearby. The effectiveness of existing evacuation plans for local residents was also called into question.
Presiding Judge Ikumasa Maeda ruled that the new safety standards were crafted based on consultations among experts.
“There are no irrationalities,” he said.
The judge also said the operator calculated the biggest possible earthquake motion after taking into account “uncertainties” over natural phenomena, and thus the decision to restart the power plant was legitimate.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to reboot reactors to help reduce high energy costs, but opponents are using the courts to block the revival of nuclear power, which is widely unpopular, especially in areas where they can’t get local governors or mayors to prevent a restart.
Kansai Electric has four of its 11 reactors under injunction and recently announced plans to decommission two units.
Tepco, which is dealing with the Fukushima No. 1 debacle, is tussling with local authorities to get another power station up and running — Kashiwazaki Kariwa, the world’s biggest. It sits on the Sea of Japan coast in Niigata Prefecture.
Chubu Electric Power Co. was forced to shut its Hamaoka plant in Shizuoka Prefecture because of its proximity to offshore tectonic plates and is facing legal action.