The Fukui District Court’s ruling May 21 on the Oi nuclear power plant is a sober judgment that fully reflects the lessons learned from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. Both Kansai Electric Power Co., the operator of the plant, and the government cannot afford to ignore the ruling.
The court ordered Kansai Electric not to restart the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors, which are currently offline for regular maintenance.
The court said there was no way of knowing when an earthquake far more powerful than one the electric utility has braced for will strike.
Such an event, the court stated, could have grave consequences for residents living within a 250-kilometer radius of the plant in Oi, Fukui Prefecture.
Presiding Judge Hideaki Higuchi noted that the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant forced the evacuation of 150,000 local residents, which was the catalyst for the deaths of 60 people, including hospitalized patients.
The catastrophic accident three years ago revealed “the true nature of risks inherent in nuclear power technology and the scale of damage” that a serious nuclear accident can cause, Higuchi said.
“If the court avoided making a judgment on whether there is even a million-to-one chance of such an accident happening (at the Oi plant), it would amount to a dereliction of duty,” he added.
Presiding over a case involving nuclear power requires considerable expertise. In past rulings, Japanese courts tended to accept what the plant operator and the government claimed at face value.
We give high marks to the Fukui District Court’s decision. It suggests that the court is taking its role as vital guardian of the law very seriouslyafter the nuclear disaster.
What is especially notable about the ruling is that it is based entirely on the viewpoint of protecting the lives and livelihoods of people.
Kansai Electric argued that the reactors need to be brought back online to ensure a stable supply of electricity and to cut costs.
But the court ruling roundly criticized the utility’s argument.
“It is legally unacceptable to discuss people’s rights concerning their very existence and economic concerns about electricity rates in the same terms,” the court said.
The ruling also rejected the argument that “suspending nuclear power generation is detrimental to the national interest because it will lead to increasing Japan’s trade deficit and drain of national wealth.”
It said, “National wealth means that people can live lives firmly rooted in rich land.”
Kansai Electric said it will appeal the ruling. The court ruling is also certain to elicit an angry response from the business community and the local governments hosting the nuclear plant, which both had their sights set on the reactors restarting.
The district court’s decision is bound to be welcomed by many Japanese who have been shaken by the great suffering that residents of Fukushima Prefecture have had to endure.
After the nuclear accident, the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) was established as a more independent nuclear industry watchdog. This had led to more stringent nuclear safety standards than before.
The Abe administration has moved to reactivate idled reactors if they pass the NRA’s safety checks.
But the court also pointed out the “limit of human ability in the face of (the great forces of) nature.”
There are still many unsolved issues with regard to the Fukushima nuclear disaster; for example, what precisely caused the accident and why damage cut across such wide areas.
The ruling was intended as a strong warning against a head-long rush to bring reactors back online based only on limited scientific knowledge.
The operators of nuclear plants, the government and the NRA should offer clear and straightforward answers to the questions raised by the court ruling.
They should not be allowed to ignore them, banking on the possibility that a higher court may overturn the lower court’s decision.
--The Asahi Shimbun, May 22
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