Japanese Court Blocks Nuclear Plant Restarts

A Japanese court has blocked plans to reopen two reactors that had been previously cleared to resume operations by the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA). 

Local residents in western Japan’s Fukui Prefecture, where Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Takahama nuclear plant is located, successfully petitioned a court to issue an injunction halting plans to restart Units 3 and 4, citing concerns about whether the reactors could sustain a strong earthquake.

The April 14 injunction against the operation of the two units issued by the Fukui District Court stems from petitions filed by nine residents. The petitioners also sought an injunction preventing operation of the Ohi Nuclear Power Station.

The decision is a blow to Kansai Electric Power Co., which garnered the NRA’s approval to resume plant operations on Feb. 12, after months of meeting with the regulatory body to address compliance with new regulatory requirements. Kansai is expected to file an appeal.

The company has been requesting dismissal of the petition since December, “while claiming and substantiating on the basis of scientific and professional findings that safety of the power station is ensured,” it said in a statement on April 14. The court’s conclusion is “without reasonable grounds,” it added.

It is also unclear how the decision will affect the government’s push to restart some of the nation’s 43 nuclear units.

The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has pledged to restart all reactors that pass safety reviews, and at least 13 reactors across the nation are undergoing safety assessments by the NRA under new standards promulgated in July 2013.

Before it cleared Kansai’s Takahama Units 3 and 4 in February, the NRA cleared Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai Nuclear Power Plant last November. The first Sendai unit could come online in June—after local elections in April.

Reports suggest, however, that Sendai could suffer a similar injunction in a ruling scheduled for April 22.

This March, meanwhile, four Japanese utilities announced they would retire five older reactors rather than implement strict and expensive safety requirements mandated by new nuclear regulations.

Sonal Patel, associate editor (@POWERmagazine, @sonalcpatel)