• Kyodo, Bloomberg

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A court in Ibaraki Prefecture ordered on Thursday the suspension of the Tokai No. 2 nuclear power plant, amid ongoing public safety concerns over nuclear power generation 10 years after the Fukushima No. 1 accident.

In a civil lawsuit at the Mito District Court, residents of Ibaraki and surrounding prefectures demanded that Japan Atomic Power Co. halt operation of the power plant in the prefecture, arguing that safety measures at the facility are insufficient.

The Tokai No. 2 plant, which started commercial operations in 1978, has been idle as the utility is working to meet stricter regulations established after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

While the court acknowledged that there were no problems with the plant’s preventive measures against tsunamis and earthquakes, it said the areas around the plant covered by its evacuation plan were too limited, and that the facility posed danger to people living in larger areas.

Japan Atomic Power, an electricity wholesaler that focuses only on nuclear energy generation, has been seeking to restart the Tokai plant by December 2022, after gaining approval in November 2018 to extend its operations beyond the preliminary 40-year limit.

Nuclear reactors are typically allowed to run for 40 years in Japan but their use for an additional 20-year period can be approved by the nuclear watchdog.

The same day, in contrast to the Mito ruling, a separate high court ruled in favor of a nuclear utility.

The Hiroshima High Court reversed an earlier order to shut down Shikoku Electric Power Co.’s No. 3 reactor at Ikata nuclear power plant in Ehime Prefecture, paving the way for the utility to restart the reactor after an ongoing periodic inspection is completed later this year.

In 2017, three residents of Yamaguchi Prefecture living across the Seto Inland Sea but within a 50-kilometer radius of the Ikata plant filed a request for its operations to be suspended with the Iwakuni branch of the Yamaguchi District Court. The court rejected the request in March 2019.

In response to an appeal by the residents, the Hiroshima High Court ordered the utility to suspend the reactor in January last year, but the operator then filed an objection in February 2020.

Deep public opposition has stalled the return of Japan’s nuclear fleet, with a raft of court challenges spurred by safety concerns. The country has restarted just nine of its 33 remaining operable plants since the regulator upgraded safety protocols in the wake of the 2011 disaster, which resulted in a triple reactor meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 plant.

The Ikata No. 3 reactor will be able to resume operations as early as October, after finishing required upgrades.

Kansai Electric Power Co. is also seeking to restart three reactors at its Takahama and Mihama nuclear power plants as soon as this year. The utility is waiting for final approval from the governor of Fukui Prefecture, where the units are located.

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