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Alarm bells for other utilities?


May 22, 2014


Editorial: Oi nuclear power plant ban sounds alarm bells for other operators




A Fukui District Court ruling on May 21 banning the restart of two reactors at the Oi Nuclear Power Plant in Fukui Prefecture sounded alarm bells against the government's intention to reactivate idled atomic power stations one after another.

This is the first court ruling on a lawsuit demanding an injunction on the restart of nuclear plants since the outbreak of the Fukushima nuclear crisis in March 2011. It would be extremely difficult to resume operations at most nuclear plants across the country if the views that the court expressed in the ruling on the safety of atomic power stations are to be respected.

The district court stated that individuals' personal right to protect their lives and livelihoods are of the highest value under the Constitution. The court then concluded that "it would be only natural to suspend nuclear plants if they pose specific risks of danger -- though it would be an extreme argument to say the existence of such plants is impermissible under the Constitution."

It was a landmark decision in that the court placed top priority on the safety of residents of areas hosting atomic power stations. The court also judged that residents within a 250-kilometer radius of the Oi plant are qualified to be plaintiffs in this lawsuit because operations at the power station could infringe on their personal rights, noting that the then head of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission had once considered issuing an evacuation advisory to people in areas within a radius of 250 kilometers from the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant following the plant's meltdowns.

Kansai Electric Power Co. (KEPCO), the operator of the Oi plant, is poised to appeal the ruling to a higher court. Unless the latest ruling is finalized, KEPCO can legally restart the two reactors at the Oi plant if they pass safety inspections by the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA). However, if the government is to ignore the ruling and give the green light to restarting the reactors, it would certainly stir protests from the public.

The March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake that triggered the tsunami and the nuclear crisis has reminded the public that it is impossible to predict where and when a powerful earthquake will occur next in this quake-prone country. Based on the lessons of the triple disasters, the ruling determined that systems to cool down cores of the No. 3 and 4 reactors at the Oi plant in case of a powerful temblor and their structure to prevent radioactive substances from leaking are flawed. In other words, the ruling pointed out that the operator of the plant was too optimistic about the crucial dangers of nuclear plants and failed to develop sufficient safety technologies or create safety equipment.

The court dismissed KEPCO's argument during hearings that restarting the two reactors would help stabilize electric power supply and reduce expenses. "The large trade deficit as a result of the suspension of operations at nuclear plants should not be regarded as an outflow or loss of national wealth. Inability to restore abundant national land and people's livelihoods that have taken root there would be a true loss of national wealth," the ruling said.

Should a serious accident occur at a nuclear plant, it would threaten the lives of numerous residents in areas hosting the facility. The ruling's demand that operators of atomic power stations "take all possible measures to protect citizens from radioactive substances" if a serious accident were to occur is convincing.

The court also rebuffed the view that nuclear plants should be operated to help prevent global warming. "The accident at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant is the worst pollution -- the worst environmental contamination. It is wrong to base calls for operations at nuclear plants on the need for environmental protection," the court ruled. Many people affected by the Fukushima nuclear crisis apparently agree with this view.

The Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe intends to restart nuclear reactors if they pass NRA safety inspections. However, the government should not allow utilities to resume operations at idled nuclear power stations one after another as if it had forgotten all about the Fukushima nuclear disaster.


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