• Kyodo

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A high court on Wednesday rejected an appeal by local residents against a ruling last year allowing the restart of two reactors at a nuclear power plant in Kagoshima Prefecture.

The Fukuoka High Court’s Miyazaki branch ruled that “it cannot be said that new nuclear safety standards are unreasonable.” Japan tightened nuclear safety regulations in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis.

The facility in question is Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai plant, where residents challenged the restarting of the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors.

Last May, they filed an appeal with the high court against the Kagoshima District Court’s rejection of a local call for an injunction to halt the restarts.

They cited worries over the plant’s vulnerability to seismic tremors and volcanic eruptions as well as inadequate evacuation plans.

The Sendai plant sits about 50 kilometers from Mt. Sakurajima, a volcano that erupts frequently and is relatively close to several other active volcanoes.

The government’s nuclear regulatory body approved the restarts under the new safety standards.

At the high court on Wednesday, presiding Judge Tomoichiro Nishikawa said the judgment by the Nuclear Regulation Authority that quake-proof measures for the two Sendai reactors met the new safety standards was “appropriate.”

While disputing the NRA’s assumption that it is possible to predict the exact timing and scale of a volcanic eruption, the judge said a catastrophic eruption could occur only “extremely infrequently.”

Even if there were questions about the rationality and effectiveness of evacuation plans as claimed by the plaintiffs, the judge said “that alone could not be seen as infringing upon their personal rights.”

While some local residents welcomed the decision, others remained concerned about the safety of the reactors.

A 57-year-old female pharmacist in the city of Kagoshima, who joined other residents in filing the injunction, said she will “continue this campaign to achieve zero nuclear power.”

A 67-year-old taxi driver said halting the reactors would hurt the local economy.

The district court ruled last April that there were no “irrationalities” in new national safety standards adopted after the Fukushima disaster, and that having cleared those standards, the Sendai plant is fit for operation.

The No. 1 reactor was brought back online last August. The restart ended a nearly two-year national nuclear outage, and the No. 2 unit was reactivated last October.

The government is pushing to reboot more nuclear reactors despite safety concerns among the public, as it seeks to meet a goal of generating 20 to 22 percent of the nation’s electricity with atomic power by 2030.

But it faced a challenge to this last month, when the Otsu District Court ordered Kansai Electric Power Co. to halt the operation of two reactors at its Takahama nuclear plant. It was the first such order and is widely seen as a precedent that anti-nuclear activists can use elsewhere.

Kansai Electric filed an objection and is seeking a suspension of the court order.