Japanese Nuclear Sector Suffers More Setbacks

Japan’s embattled nuclear sector, struggling to restart some of its idled reactors, suffered a pair of setbacks this week as a court again ruled against the restart of Takahama Units 3 and 4 in Fukui Prefecture and an antinuclear activist won election as governor of Kagoshima Prefecture, where Japan’s only operating nuclear plant, Sendai, is located.

Takahama Still Shuttered

In the decision July 12, Otsu District Court in Shiga Prefecture ruled for the third time that Kansai Electric Power Co. (Kepco) had failed to demonstrate that it had met new safety standards enacted in the wake of the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant. Kepco had restarted Takahama in February, only to have to shut it down again in April following a decision by the Otsu court (Figure 1).

The four-unit Takahama nuclear plant remains shut down after a court decision in July. Units 3 and 4 restarted earlier this year but were forced to shut down again after opponents sued. Units 1 and 2 are still seeking permission for a restart from the nation’s Nuclear Regulatory Authority. Courtesy: Hirorinmasa/Wikipedia


Kepco appealed the decision, but the court reaffirmed it on July 12, finding that Kepco’s arguments in favor of a restart were based on conclusory statements by the utility as to the plant’s safety, not objective evidence. The case has raised questions as to whether the country’s Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA) is rubber-stamping restart applications, according to Japanese media.

The NRA on June 20 approved a 20-year license extension for Takahama Units 1 and 2. Those units have not yet restarted.

Sendai’s Fate Thrown in Doubt

Meanwhile, in Kagoshima Prefecture, journalist Satoshi Mitazono defeated incumbent Gov. Yuichiro Ito on July 10 after campaigning on a promise to shut down operations at the two-unit Sendai nuclear plant. Sendai was the first Japanese reactor to restart after Fukushima, returning to operations last year after months of litigation and uncertainty (Figure 2). Unit 1 restarted in August and Unit 2 in October.


The two-unit Sendai plant is Japan’s only currently operating nuclear power plant. Courtesy Kyushu Electric Power Co.

Mitazono repeated his promise to shut down Sendai after the election results were in. “A nuclear plant whose safety hasn’t been confirmed shouldn’t be operating,” he told local media.

Though the governor has no legal authority to shut down the plant, Sendai’s two units are due to shut down for planned inspections in October and December, respectively. Because the prefectural government is involved in the safety checks, objections by the governor could indefinitely delay restarts, according to the federal Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

Beyond Sendai and Takahama, only one other Japanese plant has been cleared by the NRA to resume operations. Unit 3 of Shikoku Electric Power Co.’s Ikata plant in Ehime Prefecture in southern Japan is set for a restart in late August.

—Thomas W. Overton, JD is a POWER associate editor (@thomas_overton, @POWERmagazine).

SHARE this article