Court Bars Kansai Electric From Restarting Takahama Reactors

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Takahama Atomic Plant
The No. 3, left, and No. 4, reactor buildings stand at Kansai Electric Power Co.'s Takahama nuclear power station at dusk in Takahama Town, Fukui Prefecture, Japan. Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

A court ruled to bar Kansai Electric Power Co. from restarting two reactors at a plant in western Japan, dealing the government a blow in its efforts to resume nuclear power generation after the 2011 meltdown in Fukushima.

A panel of judges with the Fukui District Court Tuesday issued an injunction preventing the utility from moving ahead with plans to resume operations at the atomic units, according to the plaintiffs in the case.

The injunction may force the utility to delay bringing the No. 3 and 4 units back online at the Takahama atomic plant in Fukui, a nuclear hub on the coast of western Japan. The decision comes less than two months after Kansai predicted the reactors would be working by November following regulatory approval of the utility’s safety report on the units.

“It will be difficult for the utility to restart the units during the current financial year” ending in March 2016, said Hidetoshi Shioda, a senior analyst at SMBC Nikko Securities Inc. “The timing of the restarts will be delayed substantially.”

Kansai Electric, the utility most dependent on nuclear power in Japan, said in a statement after the decision that the court’s ruling was unacceptable and that it would appeal. Osaka-based Kansai provides electricity for households and companies ranging from Sharp Corp. to Panasonic Corp., in the second-most populated area in Japan.

Shares Recover

Kansai Electric shares rose 2.2 percent to 1,165.5 yen at the close of trading in Tokyo, recouping losses immediately after the decision when they fell as much as 4.7 percent.

Ahead of Tuesday’s ruling, Kansai Electric’s petition to disqualify the judges presiding over the case was rejected by the Nagoya High Court.

The head of the panel of judges hearing the Takahama case, Hideaki Higuchi, ruled in May last year to prevent Kansai Electric from restarting two units at its Ohi station, also in Fukui Prefecture. At that time, the court said in its ruling on Ohi that the need for nuclear power doesn’t take precedent over individual rights to safety.

In December, a nine-member group of plaintiffs filed a petition with the Fukui District Court for a provisional disposition order to stop the Takahama reactors from restarting.

The Takahama units were commissioned in 1985 and have generating capacity of 870 megawatts each. Japan’s nuclear regulator approved a safety report on the two units in February.

Legal Challenge

“This important ruling signals that the government’s and the utilities’ pro-nuclear agenda can be blocked,” Hisayo Takada, climate and energy campaigner with Greenpeace Japan, said in an e-mailed statement. “The decision today is a further setback to a nuclear industry in crisis.”

The Takahama legal challenge focused on issues such as Kansai Electric’s underestimation of seismic risks and whether evacuation plans at Takahama are adequate in the event of a severe accident, according to Greenpeace.

The Fukui District Court said in a statement that new safety regulations introduced following the Fukushima disaster are still too lax to ensure the safety of the two reactors at the Takahama station.

The government respects an earlier judgment by the regulator, the Nuclear Regulation Authority, that the Takahama units meet new safety standards, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters on Tuesday.

The ruling won’t change the government’s policy to push for nuclear restarts, he said.

All of Japan’s 48 operable nuclear reactors are off-line following the disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima plant. Five of the reactors currently considered by the government to be functional are slated to be decommissioned by the utilities that operate them.

Additional Challenges

The Takahama case highlights additional challenges to restart the country’s reactors. Kansai, which relied on half of its power generation from nuclear plants before the accident, is set to report a fourth straight annual loss because surging fuel costs in the absence of nuclear power.

A court decision on a similar case seeking to stop the resumption of Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s No. 1 and No. 2 reactors at its Sendai station is scheduled for April 22.

Kyushu Electric has sent a proposal to the regulator to resume commercial operations at its Sendai No. 1 reactor in August, the first restart under the post-quake safety checks.

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