Japanese court allows restart of nuclear reactor amidst safety concerns

The Matsue branch of the Hiroshima High Court has dismissed a lawsuit that aimed to block the restart of a nuclear reactor in western Japan due to concerns about safety. Chugoku Electric Power Co had planned to restart the reactor, which is currently undergoing a safety inspection, in December. The plaintiffs, who hail from Shimane and Tottori prefectures, had argued that the utility’s safety plans did not sufficiently address natural disasters such as earthquakes. They also claimed that evacuation plans would not be effective in the event of damaged infrastructure or collapsed homes. However, the court disagreed. Presiding Judge Yoshiki Matsutani said that there were no “specific risks of a major accident that may lead to a leak of an abnormal level of radiation beyond the premises of the plant.”

The Shimane nuclear plant, which is the only plant of its kind located in a prefectural capital in Japan, is home to a boiling water reactor much like those found at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station. The facility will be the second of its type to resume operation, following the restart of the No. 2 reactor at Tohoku Electric Power Co’s Onagawa plant in Miyagi Prefecture, which is scheduled for next month. Chugoku Electric Power pushed back the start date for the reactor after encountering delays in implementing its safety measures. The reactor had been cleared to restart by the Nuclear Regulation Authority in September of this year.

About 450,000 people living in six municipalities across the two prefectures are within a 30-kilometer radius of the Shimane plant, and the reactor’s restart has been a source of intense debate. Protestors gathered outside the courthouse holding banners that read, “The judiciary abandoned the residents” and “Our voices did not reach them.” Chugoku Electric Power has claimed that the reactor is safe and that there is no risk of radiation escaping beyond the plant, even in the event of an earthquake that exceeds the contingency plan. However, the plaintiffs believe that the utility has not taken into account the possibility of a major eruption at the nearby Mt Sanbe.

The high court’s decision comes after a 2010 ruling by the Matsue District Court rejected a lawsuit brought by the same plaintiffs. In response to the latest ruling, a Chugoku Electric Power spokesperson said: “We will continue to prioritize and ensure safety.

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