In issuing an injunction to stop the operations of the reactor, the court said Shikoku Electric Power Co. has not taken proper measures to secure the safety of the reactor given the possibility of an active fault running close to the nuclear plant it operates. The ruling also argued that the company’s assumptions concerning the risks related to a possible volcano eruption are overly optimistic.
The high court decision has cast serious doubt about the nuclear safety measures that have been taken by electric utilities to bring offline reactors back on stream under the new standards introduced after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. It has also called into question the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s decisions to allow utilities to restart suspended reactor operations by endorsing the legitimacy of the measures.
Shikoku Electric plans to appeal the ruling. The NRA has also criticized the ruling, saying that the new safety standards are based on the latest scientific and technological knowledge and that it properly examines and assesses the measures taken by utilities.
But the high court’s decision should not be brushed aside.
The new nuclear safety standards were designed and introduced to ensure high levels of safety that can prevent a recurrence of a Fukushima-class accident.
In cases where experts are divided over safety risk issues, the court said, an optimistic stance toward the risks should not be taken casually simply because it is the majority view.
According to this position, the court declared Shikoku Electric’s sonic wave tests to be “insufficient” despite the fact that experts were divided on this issue.
Pointing to a flaw in the guidelines for assessing risks linked to volcanic eruptions, the court said it is “unreasonable” to assume that it is possible to predict the timing and scale of a major eruption sufficiently in advance.
This is a problem that was also pointed out in a court ruling handed down in the autumn of 2018. How long do nuclear regulators intend to leave it unaddressed?
In considering issues concerning nuclear safety, it is vital to listen humbly to dissenting opinions and remain willing to make constant reviews of the safety standards and the measures based on them.
A lack of such a commitment to safety undermines the credibility of the NRA’s claim that both the safety standards and screenings are totally reliable.