OSAKA – The Osaka High Court overturned Tuesday an injunction issued against the restart of Kansai Electric Power Co.’s No. 3 and No. 4 reactors at its Takahama facility in Fukui Prefecture, paving the way for them to be switched back on.
The landmark injunction issued by the Otsu District Court in Shiga Prefecture in March last year cited safety concerns for preventing the reactors from restarting even though they were judged to have met new safety regulations set after the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear crisis.
While the injunction had been a temporary victory for the plaintiffs in Shiga, some had predicted the Osaka High Court would adhere to a more narrow technical view of nuclear safety.
In his ruling, Judge Ikuo Yamashita said the plaintiffs had the responsibility to prove allegations of any specific dangers that would result in restarting the plant, which the judge ruled they had not.
Part of the plaintiffs’ claim relied on the alleged inadequacy of current evacuation plans in the event of an accident. Therefore, starting up the Takahama reactors, located about 60 km from the city of Kyoto, posed a significant risk, they argued.
Yamashita ruled that measures were being taken in Fukui and that official attitudes and efforts had been proactive, so he could not accept the plaintiffs’ claims.
“Kepco showed proof that they drew up emergency response measures based on the largest scale earthquake and tsunami,” the judge ruled. “The judge’s decision is extremely regrettable,”It’s clear with the decision that no progress has been made in terms of learning the lessons of March 11, 2011,” Kenichi Ido, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said after the verdict was announced. “The attitude of the courts hasn’t changed at all since the Fukushima accident. In particular, the evacuation plans aren’t really being taken into consideration by the courts.”
Yoshinori Tsuji, one of the chief plaintiffs, said: “In America and South Korea, the courts are defying the presidents of both countries. But in Japan, the courts — which were ignoring the wishes of the people to stop nuclear power before March 11, 2011 — fail to reflect on what happened then. The courts follow the wishes of the nuclear power lobby and the government.”
Kansai electric officials welcomed the decision, saying at a Tuesday afternoon press conference in Osaka the utility would move towards preparing to restart, although they did not say when the reactors were expected to go back online.
“With safety as the top priority, the period for restarts is not yet set,” Kepco president Shigeki Iwane said. He added that once the restarts took place, the firm would move to reduce electricity prices.
In Kansai region, reaction to the court’s verdict was mixed. Fukui Gov. Issei Nishikawa, a strong supporter of nuclear power, was relieved with the decision, saying it was a return to a reasonable and correct decision by the court system.
But in neighboring Shiga prefecture, Gov. Taizo Mikazuki said that, given more immediate concerns Japan’s nuclear power industry faces, including spent fuel storage and decommissioning of old reactors, it was the wrong environment to approve reactor restarts. Kyoto Gov. Keiji Yamada emphasized that the utmost had to be done to ensure safety.