Japanese court rulings inconsistent on NPP restarts

12 April 2016

Local residents near Kyushu Electric Power Co's Sendai NPP in Japan will not file with the Supreme Court an appeal against a lower court ruling that rejected their request for suspending operations of units 1 and 2. The reactors at the plant in Satsumasendai, Kagoshima Prefecture, were brought back online in August and October last year under the new nuclear post-Fukushima safety. Plaintiff lawyers had initially indicated they would appeal against the 6 April ruling by the Miyazaki branch of Fukuoka High Court. However, on 8 April, they said that they found it unadvisable to continue the fight because of legal restrictions on ways to make and verify claims at the top court level.

Instead, they plan to keep demanding shutdown of the reactors in the ongoing lawsuit at Kagoshima District Court. Presiding Judge Tomoichiro Nishikawa of the Fukuoka High Court's Miyazaki branch had upheld a ruling by the Kagoshima District Court in April 2015.that ruling had turned down an earlier appeal filed by 12 local residents in the prefectures of Kagoshima, Kumamoto and Miyazaki, who were among about 2,600 plaintiffs who filed a lawsuit demanding that operations of the Sendai NPP should be stopped. Nishikawa said the new safety standards for nuclear power plants set by the Nuclear Regulation Authority, and the body's safety screening results stating the reactors satisfy the standards, cannot be regarded as irrational. Nishikawa therefore concluded that there is "no concrete risk that the plaintiffs and others would suffer serious damage."

The Fukuoka High Court said the new safety standards are "based on the latest scientific and technological findings. Regarding a point over securing safety and resistance against earthquakes, they are highly rational." The high court also acknowledged that the maximum scale of predictable quake tremors, which are used to design the quake-resistance capabilities of nuclear power plants, was evaluated based on sufficient research.

The Sendai ruling is in contrast to a judgment reached by the Otsu District Court in March, which ordered Kansai Electric Power Co to cease operating units 3 and 4 at its Takahama NPP in Fukui Prefecture. In the wake of the ruling by the Otsu District Court, the Takahama NPP has been idled. The inconsistency of court rulings on NPP operation has been noted in the Japanese media.

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