Surprise court injunction to close Takahama reactors is latest blow to Japan’s nuclear plans
11 March 2016
On March 9, a court in Shiga Prefecture in southern Japan ordered the shutdown of two nuclear reactors previously declared safe under post-Fukushima safety rules. The ruling brings the number of operational reactors in Japan down to two. Dozens were closed in the wake of the Fukushima disaster in 2011 and the Japanese Government has been pushing to reopen some to reduce the cost of fossil fuel imports.
SThe ruling by Otsu District Court ordered the closure of the operational reactors at the Kansai Electric (KEPCO) Takahama nuclear plant, in neighbouring Fukui Prefecture. The presiding judge said Kansai Electric had not fully explained how it had upgraded safety features at Reactors No. 3 and 4 under new safety standards, specifically measures to deal with power loss or how to carry out evacuation plans in case of an accident or a tsunami.
Reactor No. 3 restarted in January and No. 4, which was scheduled to restart in February, was taken offline due to unexpected technical problems days after it restarted. KEPCO said it would respect the “extremely regrettable” decision and shut down operations but also said it would appeal.
Reactors No. 3 and 4 at Takahama, both 870 MWe pressurised water reactors, had been offline since being shut for periodic inspections in February 2012 and July 2011 respectively. Both received permission to restart under the new safety rules introduced by Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) post-Fukushima after KEPCO made changes to reactor installations and introduced enhanced safety plans.
The lawsuit that sought the injunction was filed by Shiga residents who were fearful that an accident at the Takahama plant, which lies less than 30 kilometres from the northern part of Shiga Prefecture, would impact Lake Biwa, the nation’s largest freshwater body and the source of water for about 14 million people in the Kansai region, including Kyoto and Osaka.
In a separate case concerning the two reactors at Takahama, the Fukui District Court issued an injunction in April 2015 banning KEPCO from restarting the units citing safety concerns, but lifted the injunction in December.
The judgment, the first of its kind affecting reactors that have been given permission to restart by the NRA, is a blow to the Government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which has made an expansion of nuclear capacity in Japan a central policy aim.
Indeed, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters following the ruling the Government would not change its basic stance of promoting restarts.
So far in Japan, only Reactors No. 1 and 2 of Kyushu Electric Power Company's Sendai plant have cleared the regulatory restart process and resumed operation.
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