HIROSHIMA – The Hiroshima High Court on Tuesday accepted an appeal by Shikoku Electric Power Co. allowing it to restart a halted reactor at its Ikata nuclear power plant in Ehime Prefecture, saying worries over a volcanic eruption damaging the plant are groundless.
The decision is an about-face from its earlier provisional injunction that demanded the utility halt the No. 3 unit at the plant until the end of this month, citing safety risks associated with potential volcanic activity in a nearby prefecture.
The temporary suspension order, issued last December following a request from a local opposition group, marked the first case in which a high court had prohibited operations at a nuclear plant since the 2011 triple meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant led to a nationwide halt of such plants.
Presiding Judge Masayuki Miki said in the ruling, “There is no reason to believe in the possibility of a destructive volcanic eruption during the plant’s operating period and there is only a small chance of volcanic ash and rocks reaching the plant,” which is about 130 kilometers away.
Following the court’s decision, Shikoku Electric said it will reboot the No. 3 reactor on Oct. 27. The unit has been idle for maintenance since October last year.
The Nuclear Regulation Authority, the country’s nuclear watchdog, said, “Drawing on the lessons learned from the nuclear accident at the Fukushima No. 1 plant, we will continue to impose strict regulations based on scientific and technical knowledge.”
Separately, residents in nearby Oita, Kagawa and Yamaguchi prefectures have also been seeking to stop the reactor in pending court cases. The Oita District Court is scheduled to hand down a decision on Friday.
In addition, a request to extend the period of the injunction beyond Sunday has been filed with the Hiroshima District Court.
In the injunction, the high court had said the power company underestimated the risks of heated rocks and volcanic ash reaching the plant if a big eruption occurs at Mount Aso in Kumamoto Prefecture.
That decision constituted a major victory for the nation’s anti-nuclear movement and dealt a blow to the central government and utility firms, which are hoping to bring more reactors back online.
Shikoku Electric claimed in the appeal that it believes there is a “low possibility” of the volcano having a large-scale eruption while the reactor is in operation.
Plaintiffs, however, argued that the resumption of operations at the plant is “unreasonable” because of a “high risk of an accident.”