By Mari Saito and Kentaro Hamada
TOKYO, March 5 (Reuters) – The fight over restarting Japan’s nuclear industry is moving to the courts, where power companies face the risk of further delays in firing up idled reactors if judges side with local residents worried about nuclear safety.
Four reactors owned by two utilities cleared regulatory safety checks in recent months, potentially soon ending more than a year without atomic power in Japan, the first such spell in the four decades the nation has been using nuclear energy.
And while ruling politicians and Japan’s bureaucracy are pushing the restarts, the judiciary – which typically sided with power companies before the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster – may be shifting its attitude.
Judges are now considering injunctions that could halt the restarts and indefinitely extend the countrywide shutdown of Japan’s 48 reactors that followed Fukushima, posing a threat to power companies already surviving on government support.
“Japan’s courts have always been hesitant to properly check the state and its legislative process,” but the shift in public opinion against nuclear power may have turned some judges in favour of residents, said Hiroshi Segi, a former judge turned critic of Japan’s judicial system.[…]
The plaintiffs contend the utilities are underestimating the earthquake risks at Sendai and Takahama and not meeting tougher post-Fukushima standards. Residents also say the government has not set credible evacuation plans in case of a nuclear accident.
Kaido’s team of anti-nuclear lawyers are planning to seek injunctions on every plant that wins regulatory approval.
“Judges must know that their decision could stop the next nuclear accident,” Kaido said.