Nuclear Reactors in Japan Remain Closed by Judge’s Order via The New York Times

TOKYO — Fukui Prefecture, with 13 commercial nuclear reactors clustered along a short, rugged coastline, has earned the area a reputation as a political stronghold for the atomic power industry. Nuclear-friendly politicians dominate most of Fukui’s government offices, and the region is nicknamed Genpatsu Ginza, or Nuclear Alley.
Yoshihide Suga, the chief cabinet secretary for Mr. Abe, questioned the scientific rationale for the Fukui court’s decision and said it would not alter the government’s support for nuclear power.

“The reactors have been judged by experts to meet the new safety standards,” Mr. Suga said, referring to a review by the Nuclear Regulation Authority of Japan that was completed late last year. The agency determined that the Takahama reactors met tougher guidelines introduced after the Fukushima disaster. “We will respect that judgment, and there is no change to our policy of moving ahead with restarts,” Mr. Suga said.

Kansai Electric had intended the reactors in Fukui to be among the first in the country to be returned to service after the introduction of the new rules more than two years ago. But in his ruling on Tuesday, the judge, Hideaki Higuchi, challenged the adequacy of the standards, which cover things like plants’ resistance to earthquakes and tsunamis, the triggers for the Fukushima disaster.

“There is little rational basis for saying that an earthquake with a magnitude that exceeds the safety standard will not occur,” said Judge Higuchi, 62. “It is an optimistic view.”
Judge Higuchi’s critics say he lacks the technical expertise to reach conclusions about nuclear safety.

Shinichi Nishikawa, a professor at Meiji University, said Japanese judges were often reluctant to challenge government policies. He noted that Judge Higuchi had spent his career in low-level local courts and was “not part of the elite” judiciary, where rulings favorable to the government can be a precondition for promotion.

“Last year’s ruling took courage, but this ruling may have taken even more courage,” Professor Nishikawa said.

Japan’s nuclear shutdown has created serious financial problems for utilities like Kansai Electric, which before the accident relied on atomic power to generate nearly 30 percent of its electricity. Several utilities, including Kansai Electric, have received low-interest loans and other emergency aid from the government.

Since he took office in late 2012, Mr. Abe has reversed a pledge by a previous government to wean Japan off nuclear power completely over the next several decades.

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