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Takahama restart ignores safety concerns

December 25, 2015


EDITORIAL: Fukui court ignores all safety lessons from Fukushima disaster



A local court has handed down a ruling on a plan to restart offline nuclear reactors that harks back to the era before the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011.

The Fukui District Court on Dec. 24 nullified an injunction against restarting the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Takahama nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture. The injunction was issued by the same court in April.

In its April decision, the district court said the new safety standards of the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) were “far too lenient, and meeting them does not guarantee the safety of nuclear power plants.”

This time around, however, the court said, “The framework of the new safety standards for safety examinations by the NRA, which has high levels of expertise and independence, is reasonable.”

The court also endorsed the NRA’s assessment that the two reactors had cleared the safety standards, saying there are no “unreasonable elements in the judgment.”

The court also turned down local residents’ request for an injunction against the restarts of the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors at Kansai Electric’s Oi plant, also in Fukui Prefecture, saying, “It cannot be said that the restarts are imminent.”

In April, the court pointed out that as many as five earthquakes exceeding the design basis earthquake ground motion (DBEGM) levels had occurred at four nuclear plants since 2005. The DBEGM serves as a benchmark for quake-resistant design of a nuclear plant. It also referred to the fact that spent nuclear fuel stored in pools at the Takahama plant were not placed in sufficiently sturdy facilities.

The latest court decision dismissed all these safety concerns, saying, “The danger is controlled to an extent where it can be ignored in light of socially accepted standards.”

In 1992, the Supreme Court handed down a ruling that set a precedent for cases involving technical issues related to nuclear power generation. In ruling over a lawsuit concerning Shikoku Electric Power Co.’s Ikata nuclear power plant, the top court said the judiciary should respect opinions of nuclear experts and refrain from making judgments about highly technical issues that require expert knowledge unless there are clearly errors in safety checks that are too serious to be overlooked.

The Dec. 24 court decision is in line with the Supreme Court ruling.

But the meltdowns at the Fukushima plant took place while the judiciary continued making decisions on related issues under this framework.

A severe accident at a nuclear power plant could cause immeasurable damage in wide areas for a very long time.

The latest court decision, which seems to leave the judgment to experts and be based on the assumption that serious accidents seldom occur, blatantly disregards the fact that unexpected accidents could happen.

This has been an important viewpoint in debate on the future of nuclear power generation in this nation since the March 11 disaster.

Kansai Electric Power has argued that each day of delay in the restarts of the two reactors at its Takahama plant costs the company about 400 million yen ($3.27 million) in losses.

With the removal of the judicial block to the resumption of the two reactors, the process of bringing them back online will accelerate.

But the utility should not forget that many Japanese people cast critical eyes on nuclear power generation.

When electric utilities plan to restart idled reactors, they seek consent only from the prefecture and the municipalities that host their plants.

But parts of Kyoto and Shiga prefectures are also located within 30 kilometers from the Takahama nuclear plant. Utilities should widen the scope of local communities from which they seek consent to restart reactors.

There has also been insufficient debate on the risk posed by a concentration of nuclear power plants in Fukui Prefecture.

Neither the government nor electric utilities must be allowed to forge ahead with any plan to restart reactors without addressing all these safety concerns.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 25

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