FUKUI--The Fukui District Court on May 21 ordered Kansai Electric Power Co. not to restart the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors of the Oi nuclear power plant, whose operations are currently suspended due to regular safety inspections.
The ruling marked the first handed down by a court in Japan in response to a lawsuit seeking the stoppage of operations of nuclear reactors, in the wake of the March 2011 accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
Presiding Judge Hideaki Higuchi said that residents living within a radius of 250 kilometers from the plant, located in Oi, Fukui Prefecture, can seek a halt to operations of the reactors.
Operations of all Japan's nuclear reactors were suspended following the Fukushima nuclear accident. However, the No. 3 and the No. 4 reactors of the Oi nuclear power plant were restarted in July 2012, becoming the first to resume operations after the Fukushima disaster.
In November 2012, local residents and other plaintiffs jointly filed a lawsuit with the Fukui District Court, seeking the suspension of the operations of the two reactors.
In September 2013, Kansai Electric shut down their operation as part of the regular inspection process. Currently, the utility has applied to restart the two reactors. The Nuclear Regulation Authority is currently examining its application based on new safety standards concerning nuclear reactors.
If the NRA concludes that the two reactors are in compliance with the new safety regulations, then Kansai Electric will be able to resume their operations if the Fukui District Court ruling has been appealed to a higher court.
However, if Kansai Electric actually restarts the two reactors and ignores the district court’s ruling, it is expected to face strong opposition from local residents and others.
The 189 plaintiffs in the lawsuit include not only residents of Fukui Prefecture, but also some Fukushima Prefecture residents who were forced to evacuate due to the nuclear accident.
The lawsuit’s biggest point of dispute was whether an earthquake whose tremors exceed the safety standard could actually occur in the future.
The plaintiffs said that, since 2005, there have been five cases in which the tremors exceeded the predicted standard, including the instance of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant at the time of the Great East Japan Earthquake. Therefore, they claimed that Kansai Electric’s estimate of the maximum potential earthquake is too optimistic.
In response, Kansai Electric explained that the maximum possible earthquake vibration in the compound of the Oi nuclear power plant is 700 gals of ground acceleration. It also claimed that even if vibrations of 759 gals were to occur, functions of key facilities could be maintained.
There were also three other points in dispute. One was whether nuclear reactors can be continued to be cooled even if all outside power sources are lost. Another was whether leakage of radioactive materials can be prevented when pools storing spent nuclear fuel rods are damaged. And the third was whether ground slippage could occur due to the movement of active faults or landslides.
Based on the three points, the plaintiffs contended that the Oi nuclear plant is dangerous. However, Kansai Electric disagreed, arguing that it has already taken sufficient measures concerning those concerns.
In past lawsuits related to nuclear power plants, there have been two court rulings in favor of residents. One was a 2003 order handed down by the Kanazawa branch of the Nagoya High Court, which nullified the government’s approval of the installment of the Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor in Tsuruga, also Fukui Prefecture.
Another was the 2006 Kanazawa District Court’s ruling that ordered the stoppage of operations of the Shika nuclear power plant in Shika, Ishikawa Prefecture.
In both lawsuits, however, higher courts overturned the lower court rulings, and those rulings became finalized.
At the Oi nuclear power plant, the No. 1 and the No. 2 reactors have been suspended since 2010 and 2011, respectively, due to regular inspections.
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