April 5, 2017
The Osaka High Court and the Hiroshima District Court permitted in quick succession the restart of the currently-suspended Nos.3 and 4 reactors at the Kansai Electric Power Takahama Nuclear Power Plant (Fukui Pref.) and the continuation of operations at the No.3 reactor at the Shikoku Electric Power Ikata Nuclear Power Plant (Ehime Pref.). A point that must not be overlooked is that the two courts determined that the go-ahead for these reactors given by the government based on the Nuclear Regulation Authority standards is “not unreasonable”. In short, the judicial institutions relinquished their legal role of handing down their own decisions by just confirming governmental approvals. Cases over reactivation of offline reactors are pending in many courts in Japan. The courts should fulfill the judicial authorities’ role to protect the daily life and livelihoods of the general public.
‘Safety myth’ may again run rampant
If deeming that as long as the NRA gives a green light to resuming operations of nuclear reactors, courts do not need to judge whether or not such operations are appropriate, they would no longer be judicial apparatuses independent from the government. The Abe Shinzo Cabinet in principle reactivates NPPs which meet the NRA regulatory standards. It is tantamount to reinforcing the “safety myth” about the NRA screening itself.
Courts formerly did not make judgements about the “state policy” of NPPs as the policy is a government decision. However, the “safety myth” of NPPs completely collapsed after the dangers of NPPs came to light, especially after the 2011 nuclear meltdowns at the Tokyo Electric Power Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant (Fukushima Pref.) occurred. In lawsuits filed in the wake of the Fukushima accident, the district courts in Fukui and Otsu issued a temporary injunction order stopping operations of Nos. 3 and 4 reactors at the Oi NPP (Fukui Pref.) and Nos.3 and 4 reactors at the Takahana NPP, both operated by Kansai Electric Power Company.
Both of the court rulings state that people have the right to seek to protect their lives and livelihoods from NPP-related risks as the Constitution guarantees “personal rights”. The two judgements point out that the investigation into the cause of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear meltdown is totally insufficient. Concerning the NRA quakeproofing and tsunami-proofing criteria that the state used in approving the restart of NPPs, the court decisions criticized the criteria as “too lax”, which is of grave significance. The Fukui and Otsu district courts refused to blindly follow the government’s pro-nuclear policy and made independent decisions, clearly highlighting the collapse of the “safety myth”.
However, the recent decisions by the Osaka High Court and the Hiroshima District Court were completely unlike the previous two courts’ decisions. Regarding the nuclear safety standards that the NRA employed in allowing the reactivation of the reactors, the rulings by the two courts acknowledged the safety standards as “not unreasonable”, claiming that they reflect lessons learned from past accidents as well as the latest scientific and technical knowledge”. The Hiroshima ruling not just followed the state policy but abandoned the principle of judicial independence. It asserted that inconsistencies among court judgements will lead to confusion and that the Hiroshima court made the decision in line with the April 2016 decision by the Fukuoka High Court Miyazaki Branch which allowed the operation of Nos 1 and 2 reactors at the Kyushu Electric Power Company Sendai NPP (Kagoshima Pref.). If the judiciary keeps taking such a stance, it will be unable to protect people’s lives and their human rights.
Safeguard people’s rights
In the first place, the Constitution guarantees people’s right to go to court. It is a matter of course that judges should make their own decisions without being influenced by the state.
The latest rulings by the Osaka High Court and the Hiroshima District Court had to admit that evacuation plans in case of a serious accident at the Takahama and Ikata NPPs are insufficient. The Fukushima nuclear meltdown proved that an accident at a NPP will cause long-lasting, irreversible damage affecting wide areas. Courts should reject the “safety myth” and fulfil their role to protect people’s lives and livelihoods.