The Otsu District Court’s provisional injunction earlier this month ordering Kansai Electric Power Co. to shut down reactors 3 and 4 at its Takahama nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture — against which the utility filed a complaint last week— carries a significance that other power companies, the government and the nation’s nuclear regulators must not ignore.
The court charged that Kepco’s explanations as to why the reactors’ safety in the event of severe accidents is secure are inadequate, called on the national government to develop standards for evacuation plans for residents in the event of a nuclear accident, and expressed concerns about the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s basic approach toward nuclear safety following the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
The power industry and the government should take the decision as a warning that they should not push for the restart of idled plants unless they can fully ensure the plants’ safety and are prepared to adequately protect residents in the event of a major accident.
The NRA also needs to carefully weigh the decision and should not hesitate to update its post-Fukushima plant safety standards if necessary.
The injunction was issued in response to a lawsuit filed by residents of Shiga Prefecture — which is not the host of the Takahama plant. Power companies should take the court order as a rejection of their position that merely getting the consent of host prefectures and municipalities is sufficient to put nuclear power plants back online.
After the meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima plant in 2011 caused an extensive radiation fallout, local governments within 30 km of a nuclear power plant were required to devise evacuation plans for residents in the event of a major nuclear accident. But Kepco obtained approval from only the host prefecture and host municipality to restart the Takahama reactors.
The court decision makes it clear that people living outside the host prefecture and host municipality have a right to take legal action against the operation of a nuclear power plant. The decision may lead to similar lawsuits against other nuclear plants.
The court decision is significant in that it refers to the most important lesson of the Fukushima disaster — that the supposed cost advantages of nuclear power cannot justify the devastating effect of a major accident and subsequent environmental destruction, which, as the court pointed out, can cross national borders.
Although it appears that this lesson may have been forgotten by the power industry and government officials who are pushing for restart of idled nuclear reactors, it represents the doubts about nuclear power that are held by a majority of people in this country five years after the Fukushima catastrophe.
The court also made a point about the investigation into the cause of the Fukushima nuclear debacle, saying that it is only halfway through and that it remains unclear whether it is correct to identify the massive tsunami caused by the magnitude 9 earthquake as the primary cause of the meltdowns. It expressed a “strong concern” over the attitude of the NRA, which compiled the new safety standards despite the absence of a thorough probe and analysis of the causes of the Fukushima calamity. The Abe administration has touted the standards as being the most stringent in the world — but has not given concrete evidence, such as comparison with standards adopted in other countries, to prove why the standards can be characterized as such.
In addition, the court said that nuclear plant safety standards should be created on the principle that even if a severe accident happens due to the failure to incorporate necessary safety steps, it must be prevented from developing into a calamitous situation.
Since the current standards written in 2013 will continue to be used in screening nuclear power plants to determine if they should be restarted, the NRA should heed the court, study what is insufficient in the standards and take corrective measures where necessary.
Evacuation plans continue to be a major issue for residents living near nuclear power plants. In its ruling the Otsu court stated that in the wake of the Fukushima catastrophe the national government has the duty to draw up standards for evacuation in the event of a nuclear accident.
Given that the NRA standards do not cover evacuation plans and because evacuation plans devised by local governments around nuclear power plants have many questionable points, the court’s position should be taken seriously by the Abe government as it continues to push for the restart of idled nuclear power plants.
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