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Takahama Nuclear Power Plant | 公益財団法人フォーリン・プレスセンター(FPCJ)

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Takahama Nuclear Power Plant

post date : 2015.04.24

Vol. 2 April 24, 2015


The Fukui District Court on April 14 issued an injunction ordering Kansai Electric Power Co. (KEPCO) not to restart the No. 3 and 4 reactors at Takahama Nuclear Power Plant, which is located in the town of Takahama, Fukui Prefecture. The two reactors passed inspection under the new standards of the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), and were going to be restarted in November. However, local residents argued that safety measures were insufficient and sought an injunction to prevent the restarts. Judge Hideaki Higuchi indicated in his decision that the new standards were “not rational.” He is the same judge who ordered a halt to the restart of the Oi Nuclear Power Plant (Fukui) in May of last year. That ruling was not finalized, and this is the first time a restart has been blocked by an injunction, which takes effect immediately.


Japan’s five dailies, which all took up this topic in their editorials on April 15, had widely differing opinions. The Yomiuri Shimbun and The Sankei Shimbun criticized the injunction, saying “We have no choice but to call it an irrational decision” and “It will have grave consequences,” respectively. In a sharp contrast, The Asahi Shimbun welcomed the decision, saying the court “made a convincing case because its entire deliberation process was guided by its stance to look at the whole issue from the standpoint of local citizens.”


The Nihon Keizai Shimbun (Nikkei)’s criticism against the decision was not as strong as those leveled by The Yomiuri and The Sankei, nonetheless, the paper raised many questions about the suspension order. It asserted the judiciary should make a comprehensive judgement after taking into consideration not only safety issues, but also the need to stably supply electricity, and possible impacts on the economy.


The Mainichi approved the court decision to some degree in its editorial’s headline, which read “Court ban on restarting Takahama nuclear plant serves as serious warning.” At the same time, however, the paper said, “It would be too excessive if the restart of any nuclear plant were disapproved to pursue zero risk,” indicating the paper has ambiguous views about the injunction.


Are new safety standards insufficient?


In issuing the injunction, Judge Hideaki Higuchi firmly said that “The new safety standards are too lenient, and meeting them will not ensure safety.


On this point, The Yomiuri argued that “The new safety standards have adopted tougher assumptions on earthquakes and tsunami and called for measures against possible natural disasters on a scale exceeding such assumptions.” Even so, the judge denied the thinking behind the new standards and sought zero risk, which the paper called “unrealistic.”


The Sankei also called the court’s decision that deemed the new standards “irrational” as “outrageous.” The paper cited a reason for this: “It will contradict with the NRA screening regarding the safety of nuclear power plants, a situation which will leave the people confused over what yardstick they should rely on.”


The Nikkei cited, as one of the questionable points it found in the decision, the fact that the “judiciary stepped into the specialized area regarding safety and made a decision of its own” despite an 18-month process, during which the NRA examined the plant’s safety from the standpoint of experts and concluded that the reactors have met the standards. The paper also mentioned that the same judge had commented “Preparations in case of an accident are insufficient,” when ordering a halt to operations of reactors No. 3 and 4 at Oi Nuclear Power Plant. “Can you call it realistic when [the court] demands nuclear power plants to be absolutely safe or it will not approve their operations?” it said.


The Asahi, meanwhile, hailed the fact that the court did raise doubts about the new safety standards. The court seriously weighed the fact that five earthquakes exceeding the “design basis earthquake ground motion”—the benchmark for considering safety measures—occurred at four nuclear power plants in the last 10 years, the paper said. “What we are seeing appears to be the judiciary’s determination that it is the only party that can watch over the interests of local citizens after the nation’s administrative authorities failed to heed and act on the strong, lingering public apprehension about nuclear power generation,” it said.


The Mainichi mentioned their editorial position that “Based on this idea [eliminating nuclear power as soon as possible], we believe that the minimum necessary reactivation of idled nuclear plants should be permitted.” They followed by saying it would be “excessive” to pursue zero risk for the restart of nuclear power plants, but also commented that “the court’s warning that nuclear reactors should not be restarted without addressing numerous problems should be taken seriously.”


Possible impacts

Currently, the 48 nuclear reactors capable of operating in Japan are all stopped. The Sankei said the decision will have negative impacts on the nation’s efforts to stably supply electricity, to ensure energy security and to cut carbon dioxide emissions as planned. “If there is a delay in the restart of nuclear power plants, it will strain the business management of electricity companies—a development which will make it inevitable for them to raise electricity charges,” the paper said. “Small and medium-sized businesses will eventually not be able to bear [these excessive charges].”


Similarly, The Nikkei pointed out that the suspension of operations at nuclear power plants has resulted in higher electricity charges. “If this situation, in which there are no nuclear power plants in operation, continues, the nation has no choice but to depend on imported natural gas and other fossil fuels, putting its energy security at risk,” the newspaper said.


The Yomiuri said the decision to overturn the NRA’s permission “deviate[s] significantly” from the Supreme Court’s precedent set in a 1992 case over Shikoku Electric Power Co.’s Ikata Nuclear Power Plant—a ruling which said “nuclear safety approval would be left to the government’s rational judgement.” It was also mentioned that since the Fukushima Daiichi accident, the only cases in which decisions have been made to block reactors from restarting are the two rulings by Judge Higuchi. The paper went on to say such a lower court decision could “undermine public trust in the judiciary, for which fairness based on facts is essential.”


The Mainichi said KEPCO, which had expected to restart the reactors in November, will be forced to review its schedule.


The Asahi, meanwhile, said “Higuchi’s ruling on April 14 should not be dismissed out of hand as an anomalous decision made by a maverick judge.” The paper urged the utilities to “acknowledge the fact that the public’s confidence in the safety of nuclear power generation has eroded dramatically since the Fukushima disaster.” It also called on the Abe administration to “heed the warning of the judiciary.”


*English translations of The Yomiuri, The Asahi, and The Mainichi are from The Japan News, The Asia & Japan Watch and The Mainichi, respectively. Those for The Sankei and The Nikkei are provisional. The content of this page was made by the Foreign Press Center Japan and does not reflect the opinion of the Japanese Government or any other organization.

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