For the past two days, Japan’s Press has been dominated by the Fukuoka High Court dismissal of an appeal to shut down Sendai units #3 & #4. It is the eighth dismissal of an antinuclear suit since the Fukushima accident, but this one has been given severe scrutiny by the Press for what seems to be two reasons.  First the filing charged the Nuclear Regulation Authority with being irrational for not demanding absolute, zero-risk safety. The Press finds notion of guaranteed, absolute safety to be quite “newsworthy”. The second reason is that the dozen plaintiffs are going to push their antinuclear agenda all the way to Japan’s Supreme Court. (Comment – There have been 30-odd antinuclear suits filed to stop nuke restarts since the Great East Japan earthquake and Tsunami of March 11, 2011. To date, nine (including two appeals) have been adjudicated. NONE have been ultimately successful. Only one is currently open to discussion… the Otsu injunction concerning the two units’ reactivation at Takahama. However, it seems that even that one will be quashed because there is no precedent for local courts making decisions that contradict Tokyo. But, this has not dissuaded the moneyed minority that will fight their hopeless battle to the bitter end. They will win occasional temporary victories – e.g. the Otsu injunction – but they are doomed to inevitable failure.)

  • Fukuoka’s High Court dismisses an appeal to shut down Sendai units #3 & #4. Presiding Judge Tomoichiro Nishikawa upheld last April’s Fukuoka court judgement which found that Japan’s NRA and its new nuclear safety standards “cannot be regarded as irrational.” Nishikawa’s concluded that there is “no concrete risk that the plaintiffs and others would suffer serious damage.” The plaintiffs had hoped that the recent injunction against the operation of two Takahama nukes would sway the Fukuoka high court. They were very wrong, and they are literally spitting-mad. Chief lawyer for the plaintiffs Masami Mori said, “It’s extremely regrettable… The court interpreted the law in a wrong way in handing down the decision to dismiss the petition. The court is unaware of the seriousness of the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant.” [Aside – In other words, the Fukuoka court is incredibly oblivious to the single-most popular issue in Japan over the past five years! End aside.] The plaintiffs also assert that there will never be sufficient earthquake or volcanic protection to quell their fears. Since their dreads are not making the NRA shut down the Sendai units, the plaintiffs claim the agency is an irrational and uncaring regulatory body. It is clear the plaintiffs saw the writing on the wall; as soon as the appeal was denied, they immediately unveiled banners saying “Unjust decision” and “We will never surrender.”  The original petition to bar the restarts was turned down last April, but the 12 die-hard antinukes who originally filed the suit showed they have the money and perseverance to continue when they vowed to file another lawsuit with a higher court; perhaps even Japan’s Supreme Court.
  • The formal ruling said, “There is no societal consensus yet that safety measures must be taken to reduce the risk of accidents to zero.”  The court’s ruling tacitly rejects the recent Otsu court decision that fully-functional, non-polluting Takahama units #3 & #4 must be shuttered because absolute safety cannot be assured to the satisfaction of the region’s antinuclear fanatics. The Otsu District Court says that Kansai Electric failed to sufficiently prove the safety of the Takahama nuclear power plant, and criticized the NRA for causing serious anxiety when the restarts were approved. In 1992, Japan’s Supreme Court ruled that nuke safety should be discussed from a viewpoint of whether or not Tokyo’s judgment on the matter is irrational, and this seems to be the point upon which the suits hinge. But, former Yokohama judge Toshiji Sato supports the Fukuoka decision, “In contrast to the Otsu District Court, which denied the new safety standards themselves, the latest decision shows a stance of respecting results of the inspections by the NRA based on the 1992 Supreme Court ruling.” Former Nagoya Judge Hideki Nakagome said, “Judging whether to stop operations of nuclear reactors, which gravely affects the social economy, is not appropriate under the framework of a temporary injunction that requires only simplified presentation of evidence.”
  • The issues of evacuation plan adequacy and volcanic risk were also raised in the wake of the Fukuoka decision. The plaintiffs maintain that the rejection of their appeal fails to consider that (in their opinion) nukes should not operate before air-tight evacuation plans are developed, and should never be operated within 160 kilometers of active volcanoes. To the contrary, the Fukuoka decision states, “Even if the [evacuation] plans lack in rationality and effectiveness, they are not recognized to immediately infringe on residents’ personal rights.” With respect to volcanoes, it says, “We must say eruption predictions are difficult and unreasonable… (Thus) the danger of catastrophic eruptions can be ignored.” On the other hand, Waseda Law School’s Shigeyuki Suto countered, “The decision lacks in an attitude that questions from the public point of view whether the new regulatory standards drawn up by a group of experts are reasonable or not. The decision that the nuclear reactors (at the Sendai plant) are not subject to immediate suspension even if resident evacuation plans are insufficient was also a sheer formality.”
  • The apparently-moneyed plaintiffs voiced their distinct outrage with the Fukuoka decision. One spouted, “The court abandoned its independent judgment,” and caved to the official Tokyo policy on nukes. Masami Mori, head lawyer for the residents, said, “I saw the ruling as saying, ‘Nuclear power plants are accepted by society, so there is nothing to be done.'” Lawyer Hiroyuki Kawai, head of a national association of lawyers against nuclear power, said angrily, “The court’s decision was a very careless legitimization of the national government’s nuclear power promotion and plant reactivation policies.” He added, “It appears to be a re-emergence of the policy of passive courts.” The bottom line statement comes from Akiko Morinaga, 44, leader of the plaintiffs in a full-scale lawsuit on the issue, who said, “It’s very unfortunate, but we will consider this as a long battle and calmly do what we can.”
  • Lawyer Hiroyuki Kawai (above) has a long history of fighting nuclear power in Japan. He began taking on antinuclear lawsuits in the 1990s. Until the Fukushima accident, he admits that it was an uphill battle. However, the Fukushima crisis has brought him to the forefront of antinuclear law. He is independently wealthy from his several-decades of practicing corporate law and has made an antinuclear movie “Nuclear Japan” to make his view known to everyone. He has formed an alliance of about 300 lawyers who want to rid Japan of nukes, and is personally representing the handful of Fukushima residents who believe their child thyroid anomalies were caused by radiation.

Now… back to Fukushima.

  • A Tokyo doctor says public education on radiation continues to be inadequate. Masaharu Tsubokura, M.D., isChief researcher at the Institute of Medical Science, University of Tokyo. He spends most of his work in Soma and Minamisoma hospitals, Fukushima Prefecture. He has found that radiation is not a common topic of conversation anymore, and people live normally without open concern about it. Not that they have no continuing concerns, but rather that they don’t want to talk about it anymore. Tsubokura argues that while there has not been, nor will there ever be discernible negative health effects caused by the low levels of radiation with Fukushima, the lack of education about radiation is an on-going problem. After five years of regular interface with Fukushima residents, he says, “At the beginning of the disaster, I didn’t understand, with exposure dose being low, why people wouldn’t return home? I’ve learned more, gradually, through associations with various people. To a mother who doesn’t want to be exposed to any more radiation, it means nothing to tell her that food in Fukushima is now safe… telling a mother—who may have decided to evacuate voluntarily, for the sake of her children, and who struggled a lot— that radiation levels don’t affect health is a challenge to her decision and judgment.” Tsubokura adds, “One of the major lessons of the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi NPPs is that the risks from evacuation are overwhelmingly greater than the risk of radiation exposure from 5 to 10mSv,” revealing that “Measures (based on ALARA) have to be considered from the beginning, not a determination to avoid all radiation by all means.” He has been spending considerable time trying to educate Fukushima’s anxious residents, but he seems to have made little headway, “The fear is completely unnecessary, and I want to do something about it. People talk about radiation in ways that are totally wrong. I want to show them the truth—the facts.”
  • Tepco’s “Ice Wall” is progressing “largely smoothly”. A company spokesperson made this observation during Monday’s visit to F. Daiichi by Minister of the Economy Yosuke Takagi. The minus 30oC refrigerant is being circulated through the ocean-side section of the system, to freeze the soil and create a barrier to groundwater flow. Tepco says the soil temperature has dropped to between minus 4 and 6 degrees at some locations. Tepco also showed the new rainwater run-off outlets that discharge inside the barricaded inner harbor (quay). The outlets from the “K” drainage ditch monitors had generated sporadic alarms due to radiation levels in the runoff, causing an outcry from local fisheries. The mildly radioactive runoff will no longer have any direct path to the sea. Tepco’s Press handout containing pictures of the ice wall’s technology can be found here…
  • The NRA says the fixes with the transmission protective devices at Takahama unit #4 are appropriate. In February, just three days after restarting the unit, an abnormality was detected and caused an immediate SCRAM. Kansai Electric Company reported that the device causing the shutdown had incorrect settings. The device has been reprogrammed to avoid a recurrence. NRA chairman Shunichi Tanaka said the incident did not affect reactor safety, but the social impact was huge and the utility’s credibility was damaged.
  • Ikata unit #3 pre-restart inspections begin. The NRA began their final assessments on Tuesday to insure that all equipment required by the new regulatory standards is adequate. The improvements include reinforcing the Primary Containment and upgrading pumps to survive a hypothetical worst-case earthquake. Once the assessments are complete, Shikoku Electric Company will begin loading fuel by the end of June and restart the reactor by the end of July. Commercial operation is scheduled to begin in August. It should be noted – because Japan’s Press always does – that 16 MOX fuel assemblies will be installed among the 157 to be inserted in the reactor vessel.
  • University nukes are hamstrung by the new NRA reactor safety regulations. The new safety standards have been written for large, electricity-production units; not small research and training reactors at colleges and institutes. Thus, these small units are being held to the same regulatory rigor as the power plants. All twelve of Japan’s university reactors have been of-line since the Fukushima accident. University of Tokyo Professor Mitsuru Uesaka said about 1,700 students and researchers used these reactors before the 2011 accident. Now, those in training must be sent to facilities overseas at a high cost. The academics plan to petition the NRA to create different criteria for research reactors, the severity of which should depend on maximum power level.