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Anger, accusations of judicial failure after Fukui court OKs reactor restart

Local residents protest against a Fukui District Court decision to lift an injunction on the restart of the Takahama nuclear plant's No. 3 and 4 reactors, in Fukui, on Dec. 24, 2015. (Mainichi)

FUKUI -- On Dec. 24, about 250 people -- petitioners against the restart of the Takahama nuclear plant's No. 3 and 4 reactors, and their supporters -- were gathered outside the Fukui District Court building, waiting to hear if the judge would uphold an earlier injunction against the restarts. At just past 2 p.m., after the verdict was handed down, the petitioners' 65-year-old representative Harumi Kondaiji displayed a piece of paper that says, "They've learned nothing from the Fukushima nuclear disaster!" and "Where is the duty to justice?"

    Presiding judge Jun Hayashi had overturned the provisional injunction imposed by another presiding judge Hideaki Higuchi in April, stating that there were "no shortcomings in the safety measures" at the Takahama nuclear station. Plant operator Kansai Electric Power Co. could go ahead with the reactor restarts.

    A great sigh escaped the crowd, followed by loud and angry cries of protest. Attorney Hiroyuki Kawai, the 71-year-old co-leader of the legal team representing the anti-restart petitioners, took a microphone and mounted an upturned beer case.

    "The court's decision is just a copy-and-paste of Kansai Electric's main claims, and is unacceptable," he told the angry crowd, his lips forming a tight line and his gaze dropping after his short speech.

    Later, at a news conference in the city of Fukui, Kawai criticized the court's decision, which stated that the dangers presented by reactor core meltdowns and major releases of radioactive materials are small and can be ignored in light of common sense and which declined to evaluate an evacuation plan.

    "Is the legality of the evacuation plan irrelevant?" he went on. "The court's decision runs counter to the policies of the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) and the (Japanese) government; both pro-nuclear bodies. The court's decision is an outright denial of global thinking on multiple safeguards."

    Also on the anti-restart legal team is 61-year-old attorney Kenichi Ido who, as a Kanazawa District Court judge in 2006, handed down a ruling banning operations at the No. 2 reactor at Hokuriku Electric Power Co.'s Shika nuclear plant. Ido called the Dec. 24 Fukui court decision "a new nuclear safety myth. The judges did not fulfill their legal duty to stop legislative and administrative bodies from running amok."

    Harumi Kondaiji, who is also a municipal assembly member in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, read out a statement by his fellow petitioners, saying, "We will use the anger of this day as energy to continue the fight." Co-petitioner and Takatsuki, Osaka Prefecture resident Kiyoko Mito, 80, commented, "Restarting the reactors means creating more danger. I feel very sorry for the children."

    The Takahama nuclear plant is close to Fukui Prefecture's borders with both Kyoto and Shiga prefectures, and the response to the district court ruling among the residents and government leaders of nearby municipalities has been varied.

    Some 84,000 people in Maizuru, Kyoto Prefecture, live within 30 kilometers of the plant and would have to be evacuated in a major nuclear emergency -- the most of any municipality affected. One 51-year-old housewife living about 15 kilometers from the Takahama plant commented, "Does the (Fukui District Court) decision really take into account the risks of us losing our home towns, I wonder. The court doesn't understand the Fukushima disaster at all."

    A 67-year-old local man, however, said that "stopping nuclear power indefinitely risks bringing on an energy shortage. If the plant has met all the safety standards, it's perfectly natural to restart the reactors."

    Maizuru Mayor Ryozo Tatami told the Mainichi Shimbun that he "respects the court's decision," but would make no further comment. Kyoto Gov. Keiji Yamada, meanwhile, pointed out that there are more people in his jurisdiction than in plant host Fukui Prefecture living inside the evacuation zone, and stated, "It's regrettable that our government was excluded from the (restart) approval process."

    The Union of Kansai Governments approved a written demand to the central government for clarification of which local bodies needed to approve reactor restarts, as well as a guaranteed system for evacuating residents, among other requests. Shiga Gov. Taizo Mikazuki added a rider stating that "the circumstances to approve (reactor restarts) will not exist as long as no effective and multifaceted system of protections can be guaranteed."

    Former Shiga Gov. Yukiko Kada, a vocal proponent of "leaving nuclear power behind," said the timing of Fukui Gov. Issei Nishikawa's approval of the Takahama restarts "looks almost story-like," noting that it came just before the Fukui District Court decision. "The independence of the judiciary is not being maintained."

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