Nuclear Restarts in Japan a Step Closer With Court Ruling

A court in Japan rejected a bid to block the restart of two nuclear reactors operated by Kyushu Electric Power Co., easing the way for the resumption of nuclear power in Japan for the first time in more than a year and a half.

The ruling by the Kagoshima District Court affects the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors at Kyushu’s Sendai nuclear-power station in the town of Satsumasendai. The reactors were commissioned in the mid ’80s and have operating capacity of 890 megawatts each.

Anti-nuclear protesters had asked the court for a temporary injunction to prevent the restart of the Sendai facility on the basis that it faced risks from earthquakes and volcanic eruptions and that Kyushu Electric had inadequate safety measures.

“It’s the wrong decision that simply swallows all the claims made by the utility,” said Hiroyuki Kawai, a representative for a group of lawyers opposing nuclear power in Japan. “It’s a decision that lumps together mistaken facts. We’ll not stop fighting for the stoppage of Kyushu Electric’s Sendai reactor.”

The plaintiffs plan to appeal the decision immediately, the group said in a statement.

Kyushu Electric called the court decision “appropriate” and vowed to do all it can to guarantee safety at the Sendai facility, according to a separate statement from the utility.

The utility’s shares rose 39 yen, or 3.2 percent, to close at 1,272 yen in Tokyo Stock Exchange trading.

New Safety Rules

The restarts would be the first atomic plants to begin operating under tougher safety rules established by the Nuclear Regulation Authority, the agency established after the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Japan’s 48 operable reactors are currently shuttered for maintenance or safety checks.

“Today’s decision is a plus for the nuclear industry, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the whole restart process will accelerate from now on,” said Junzo Tamamizu, managing partner at Clavis Energy Partners LLC in Tokyo. Restarts of each plant will depend on local court decisions, which won’t all fall in line, he said.

The decision on the Sendai plant runs counter to a court ruling last week in Fukui prefecture that sided with opponents of nuclear power who were successful in temporarily blocking Kansai Electric Power Co. from resuming operations at its Takahama atomic station in western Japan.

Appeals Planned

Kansai Electric has challenged the court decision and will begin its appeal process next month. Japan’s nuclear regulator has said that the Fukui court misunderstood the NRA’s technical assessment of the Takahama station.

Still, Japan’s government will seek not to be seen as pressuring local courts in their decisions, Tamamizu said.

Courts will have difficulty overruling the regulator’s final safety assessment decisions, said Ali Izadi-Najafabadi, a Tokyo-based analyst with Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

“Last week’s injunction against Kansai Electric is a bit different as the two reactors in question have not yet received final consent from the NRA,” he said. “But, even that ruling will likely get quashed in appeal.”

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