A plaintiff and a lawyer hold signs on July 4 criticizing a ruling by the Nagoya High Court’s Kanazawa branch that nullified an injunction to halt operations at the Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture.
July 18, 2018
The Nagoya High Court’s Kanazawa branch declared that the nation, having learned its lesson from the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in 2011, will not make the same mistakes again.
We have our doubts.
The July 4 ruling overturned the Fukui District Court’s decision of four years ago in favor of the plaintiffs, who sought an injunction against Kansai Electric Power Co. to suspend operations of the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors at the Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture.
The plaintiffs have decided against taking their case to the Supreme Court, which will finalize the high court ruling.
The Fukui District Court’s decision to halt operations of the Oi reactors was based on its own study of whether the reactors posed “risks of causing grave situations similar to the Fukushima accident.”
Its main focus was not to judge whether the reactors met the new safety regulations established by the Nuclear Regulation Authority, which was set up after the Fukushima disaster.
In contrast, the high court said it would be “only proper for a court to respect (the NRA regulations)” as they were “established based on the latest scientific and technological expertise of specialists from many fields.”
The court said there was nothing unreasonable in the NRA judgment that the Oi reactors met the new safety regulations. It concluded that the risks posed by the reactors were being controlled to a negligible level by socially accepted standards.
But what lessons has the Fukushima disaster taught us? Don’t they boil down to the fact that we believed in many experts who assured us of the safety of nuclear reactors, only to realize that an “unexpected” disaster could and did occur, causing tremendous damage we have yet to recover from.
The high court ruling read like something from pre-Fukushima days. We could not help feeling the same way every time we come across the view that the nation has more or less learned all the lessons it needed to learn from Fukushima.
One of the hardest lessons we learned–which the high court did not really address–is the sheer difficulty of evacuating citizens safely after a serious accident.
After the Fukushima disaster, local governments within 30 kilometers of nuclear power plants came to be required to establish evacuation plans for residents.
A reactor restart should be decided only after third-party experts determine whether the evacuation plan is appropriate and realistic enough.
This is not how things are being done, however.
The NRA specializes solely in examining the safety of plant facilities and equipment from a technological aspect. The administration merely reiterates that reactors that have passed the NRA’s safety tests should be allowed to restart.
There is a huge procedural flaw here, in that all such reactors are back online once the host local governments give the green light.
The high court did say that ending nuclear power generation is an available option. But it went on to state, “The final decision is not for the judiciary to make. It should be based on a political judgment to be left to the legislature or the administration.”
How have the Diet and the government received the high court ruling?
If they have truly learned lessons from Fukushima, their obvious responsibility should be to clearly present a policy to close nuclear plants and critically examine each case for a reactor restart, taking the evacuation plan set by the local government into account.