25 Mai 2014
March 22, 2014
Court recognizes 'invasion of personal rights' in ruling against reactor restarts
The Fukui District Court's ruling that ordered against reactor restarts at the Oi nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture has acknowledged a possible "invasion of personal rights" of residents living within a 250-kilometer radius of the plant if a nuclear accident occurs.
The court's May 21 decision, which ordered plant operator Kansai Electric Power Co. (KEPCO) not to restart the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors at the Oi nuclear plant in Oi, Fukui Prefecture, is certain to affect KEPCO's plans for reactor restarts while safety screenings are under way by the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA). The screenings are based on new standards drawn up in the wake of the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant disaster.
Unlike any past rulings in similar lawsuits, the court recognized that the plant "poses a realistic, imminent danger in this quake-prone country" -- taking the enormous effect of the Fukushima nuclear disaster into consideration. The lawsuit is one of the numerous cases filed with courts across the country contesting the safety of nuclear power plants in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
In a provisional injunction petition filed with the Osaka District Court by a group of some 260 residents in the Kansai region in March 2012 demanding the suspension of the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors at the Oi nuclear plant, whether the nuclear reactors could be safely halted in the event of a major earthquake became a point of contention. The Osaka District Court rejected the petition in April last year, ruling that the nuclear reactors -- then still online -- met the safety standards and that there was no tangible danger to be recognized.
The residents filed an immediate appeal, arguing that KEPCO underestimated possible quake damage, but the Osaka High Court also rejected their demand on May 9 this year on the grounds that NRA's safety screenings are underway. "It is not appropriate to decide whether reactor restarts should be banned before the screenings are concluded," the ruling said.
Lawyer Katsuhiko Kabuki, who represented the plaintiffs in the petition, hailed the Fukui District Court's decision that ruled against reactor restarts. "It is a refined ruling that declared that the mission to protect residents' personal rights lies with the courts, while drawing a line from KEPCO's economic and commercial interests."
Regarding the difference in court decisions over the same issue, Kabuki said, "In the case of a provisional injunction, the factor of urgency is taken into consideration, whereas the latest decision faced the issue squarely. Because this is a ruling of a formal trial, it bears graver significance."
Takayoshi Igarashi, former professor at Hosei University, said, "Judges hand down rulings according to their conscience. It is natural for decisions over nuclear plant safety to turn out different depending on how they perceive the Fukushima nuclear disaster. It is likely that courts will continue to make conflicting decisions, but I believe the Supreme Court will ultimately come up with a uniform decision."
There are numerous similar lawsuits filed in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, in which residents living near nuclear plants are demanding a ban on nuclear plant restarts at courts in Sapporo, Shizuoka, Matsue, Kagoshima and elsewhere. There are also other lawsuits over the Oi nuclear plant pending in courts in Kyoto and Otsu.
In the past, there were only two rulings in which residents won lawsuits over nuclear plant issues -- the 2003 decision by the Kanazawa branch of the Nagoya High Court, which nullified the construction permission for the Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor in Fukui Prefecture, and the 2006 decision by the Kanazawa District Court, which ordered the suspension of the Shika nuclear plant's No. 2 reactor in Ishikawa Prefecture. However, those decisions were subsequently overturned at higher courts, fixing the residents' defeats.
NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka distanced himself from the Fukui District Court's ruling, saying, "I have nothing to say about a judicial ruling. We will continue our safety screenings on the Oi nuclear plant as ever based on our own ideas."
Because the court decision requires far severer regulatory criteria for the Oi reactors than the NRA's safety standards, which Tanaka describes as "the world's strictest," the appeal trial of the case will likely focus on that issue as a major point of contention.
While the NRA's guidelines urge residents living within a radius of 30 kilometers from a nuclear plant be evacuated in the event of a nuclear disaster, the Fukui District Court recognized far greater repercussions, ruling that a nuclear disaster could pose a danger to residents within a 250-kilometer radius from the plant.
The NRA has heretofore defined its role as a mere examiner of whether nuclear reactors meet regulatory standards and stated that it "will not decide whether a nuclear plant should be restarted or not." An official with the NRA secretariat said, "Unless the Fukui District Court's decision is overturned in appeal trials, the plant operator wouldn't be able to decide to reactivate the reactors" -- suggesting a possible impact of the court ruling on KEPCO's decision to bring the reactors online.