Court rejects call to halt nuclear reactor in western Japan

Shikoku Electric Power's Ikata nuclear plant Photo: REUTERS file

YAMAGUCHI, Mar 16, 2019, Kyodo. A Japanese court on Friday rejected a plea by local residents to halt a nuclear reactor operated by Shikoku Electric Power Co in western Japan, one of several reactors currently running in the country, reported the Japan Today.

The decision by the Iwakuni branch of the Yamaguchi District Court is in line with past rulings by other regional courts and allows the continued operation of the No. 3 reactor at the Ikata nuclear power plant in Ehime Prefecture.

The No. 3 reactor has passed the state safety screening process that was revamped in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis.

Concerns about the sole remaining operational reactor at the plant have remained among locals, leading them to turn to the courts to seek an injunction.

Of over 30 reactors in Japan excluding those set to be decommissioned, only a few are currently operating.

A previous order forcing a halt in operations was issued by the Hiroshima High Court in December 2017 citing the risk of an eruption at the caldera of Mt Aso about 130 kilometers away. The decision was overturned in September 2018 and the utility restarted the reactor a month later.

The Yamaguchi court considered whether the operator and the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s estimates of risks predicted in the event of eruptions in the volcano in the southwestern Japan prefecture of Kumamoto were reasonable. It also looked at the potential size of a quake anticipated by scientists in seismically active areas off Japan’s central and western coasts, a key factor in a reactor’s quake-resistant design, when ruling.

In the decision, Presiding Judge Akira Onose said the possibility that a large-scale eruption might occur during the reactor’s operating life is low, and the regulatory authority’s safety standards are adequate.

The No. 3 reactor at Ikata began operations in 1994.

The plaintiffs pointed out that pyroclastic flows from possible catastrophic eruptions could reach the plant.

They also claimed the utility underestimated the fact that the reactor sits on the median tectonic line, a massive fault zone, as well as potential damage by a massive earthquake off central and western Japan’s Pacific coast.

“We find the decision appropriate. We will ensure safe and stable operation while keeping in mind that there is no end to efforts to improve safety,” Shikoku Electric said in a statement.

The Ikata No. 3 reactor was temporarily halted in April 2011 for a periodic inspection and was restarted in August 2016.

Separate demands for a halt in the reactor’s operation had been turned down by regional courts in Matsuyama and Oita.

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