TOKYO: A Japanese court Wednesday ordered the shutdown of two nuclear reactors previously declared safe under strict post-Fukushima safety rules, a decision that comes just days before the fifth anniversary of the atomic disaster.
The order would bring the number of operating reactors in Japan down to two. Dozens were shuttered in the wake of Fukushima, the worst nuclear accident in a generation
The ruling by the Otsu District Court — the first to force the shutdown of reactors switched on under stricter safety rules adopted after the 2011 disaster — is a blow to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s bid to bring back nuclear power.
The reactors to be shuttered are Kansai Electric’s No. 3 and No. 4 reactors at the Takahama nuclear plant, some 350 kilometers (215 miles) west of Tokyo.
The No.4 reactor was taken offline last month due to an unexpected technical glitch days after it restarted, while the No. 3 reactor is currently operating.
Kansai Electric said it would respect the “extremely regrettable” decision and shut down operations. But the utility firm said it would appeal.
“This court order is not something the company can accept,” it said in a statement.
Television footage showed plaintiffs and local residents cheering and holding banners after the ruling.
“I’m so happy and praise the court’s courage,” said one person celebrating outside the courthouse.
The bid to restart Japan’s nuclear reactors has become entangled in a web of lawsuits amid fears about another Fukushima-style accident.
In December, another court sided with Kansai Electric by lifting a temporary injunction blocking the restart of the two reactors covered by Wednesday’s ruling.
The latest case was filed by residents in neighbouring Shiga prefecture who argued that the reactors posed a risk to Lake Biwa, a key water source for the region.
An accident similar to Fukushima would contaminate the lake, they argued.
Two reactors in the southern prefecture of Kagoshima, operated by Kyushu Electric Power, restarted in August and October last year, ending the two-year hiatus in nuclear power generation.
A pair of reactors were briefly switched on again after the accident but were then shuttered.
Anti-nuclear sentiment still runs high in Japan and there was widespread opposition to restarts.
Premier Abe and utility companies have been pushing to get reactors back in operation, as the disaster forced Japan to turn to pricey fossil fuels to plug an energy gap left by the shutdown of dozens of nuclear reactors.
Abe has argued that resuming nuclear power is key to Japan’s energy policy, but memories of Fukushima are still fresh for many.
Japan’s entire stable of reactors was shuttered in the aftermath of the disaster, when a huge undersea quake sent a tsunami smashing into the coast, swamping the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant and sparking reactor meltdowns.
Official investigations have heaped blame on plant operator Tokyo Electric Power — three of its former executives are now facing a criminal trial — and the disaster has been labeled a “man-made” accident.
In response, Japan set up an independent atomic watchdog, the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), replacing the previous arrangement where the industry ministry both oversaw the regulator and promoted nuclear power.