A Japanese court issued an order blocking the restart of two nuclear reactors on Tuesday, in a major setback to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s contentious efforts to restart the country’s nuclear power program.
Residents of Fukui Prefecture had sought an injunction against the planned restart of No. 3 and No. 4 reactors at the Takahama plant, arguing that the government’s plans ignored or underestimated risks and failed to meet tougher safety standards that were imposed after the Fukushima crisis, NHK reported.
All 48 reactors in Japan were shut down for safety inspections after the March 2011 disaster, and none have been reactivated except for a brief restart of another two reactors in Fukui in 2012 and 2013.
Fukui District Court Judge Hideaki Higuchi said, according to NHK, that risk projections by the plant's operator, Kansai Electric, were too optimistic, and failed to account for potential dangers posed by earthquakes even though five unexpectedly powerful ones had struck nuclear reactors across the country in recent years. Higuchi added that Japan’s post-Fukushima nuclear regulations were still too lax.
The reactors, located on Japan’s western coast, were reportedly found to have met regulations imposed by Japan’s nuclear authority, and were slated to be restarted sometime this year.
Kansai Electric said it plans to appeal the decision, NHK reported. The utilities company is set to report its fourth annual year of losses since the Fukushima disaster. The company’s shares fell after the ruling, before later rebounding.
Authorization has already been given to two other reactors in the southwestern Kagoshima Prefecture. They are set to be restarted sometime this year, but an injunction has been brought against them as well, the Japan Times reported. Around half of the people seeking the injunction, however, dropped the petition in January after learning that the utility could bring charges against them for massive damages.
The ruling comes as Abe tries to push through the nuclear restart program to end the country’s growing dependence on imported fossil fuels, which have contributed to a record trade deficit and a surge in demand for coal and natural gas. Before the shutdown, Japan was the world’s third-largest nuclear energy producer.
A 2013 survey by the Japenese daily Asahi Shimbun found that nearly 60 percent of voters are against Abe’s nuclear restart policy. "We urge the government to take into full consideration the tremendous suffering from the nuclear power plant accident and make sure that future policy ensures the safety and peace of mind of all citizens," Fukushima Governor Masao Uchibori told Reuters in February.