A Japanese court says it’s too early to resume operations at the Takahama nuclear power plant on the country’s western coast, citing the risk of earthquakes in the area, but the local governor has approved a restart of two reactors at the facility in the town of Takahama.
All Japan’s 43 active reactors were ordered shut down as a precaution because of the Fukushima meltdown in 2011. So far the governments of two prefectures, Kagoshima and Ehime, have allowed restarting reactors in their jurisdictions under new safety rules instituted in 2013. Yet only two reactors at the Kagoshima plant are actually operating.
On Tuesday, Gov. Issei Nishikawa approved the restart of the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors at the plant in Fukui on the Sea of Japan, defying an injunction by the prefecture’s District Court that had been sought by residents living within about 60 miles of the nuclear facility.
These two reactors, each with a capacity of 870 megawatts, began commercial operation in 1985.
The plant’s operator, Kansai Electric Power Co., has long wanted to bring the plant back online and has appealed the injunction. A decision on the dispute is expected on Thursday. If the injunction is lifted, the No. 3 reactor could be back in operation in late January and the No. 4 reactor could restart a month later.
Nishikawa said Tuesday at a news conference, “I’ve decided to agree on the restart of the two reactors after comprehensively examining the situation.” Asked why he didn’t simply wait for the court’s decision, the governor said, “There is no particular reason. The timing should not be the issue.”
He added, “I gave comprehensive consideration to the country’s and the operator’s policy and reached a conclusion” on restarting the reactors.
The restart earlier this year of two reactors at the Sendai plant in Kagoshima Prefecture, operated by Kyushu Electric Power Co., ended nearly two years in which Japan generated all its electricity without nuclear power. Approval for the restart of a reactor at the Ikata plant, in Ehime Prefecture, operated by Shikoku Electric Power Co., was not given until October and isn’t yet back online.
In giving his approval for a resumption of operations at two Fukui reactors, Nishikawa cited the Kagoshima and Ehime precedents, the assent of his prefectural assembly and of the mayor of Takahama, and safety inspections conducted by the government of Fukui Prefecture. He also noted a separate safety clearance by Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority.
Nishikawa also cited a promise made Dec. 28 by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at a meeting of the country’s nuclear disaster prevention council to educate the Japanese people about both the dangers and benefits of nuclear power. He said public understanding of how nuclear power works is an essential condition to restarting the reactors.
Much of the Japanese public remains concerned about safety since the Fukushima disaster, given that Japan is one of the most earthquake-prone countries in the world.
Since the Fukushima disaster, local governments in areas containing nuclear power plants have been required to establish evacuation plans in the event of possible nuclear accidents, but no such plan has been set to ensure the safety of the approximately 180,000 people living within about 20 miles of the Takahama power plant.