Japan high court rules nuclear reactors can restart

View of the Takahama nuclear power plant in Fukui prefecture

A Japanese appeals court on Tuesday ruled that a pair of nuclear reactors halted by a lower court order can be restarted, in a victory for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's energy policy.

Japan shut down all of its reactors after the Fukushima nuclear crisis in 2011, relying on imported fossil fuels to power its economy. Due to public opposition, only a handful have since been restarted.

But Abe has repeatedly said that resource-poor Japan, the world’s third-largest economy, needs nuclear power and has pushed to get reactors back into operation despite public anxiety.

In Tuesday's decision the Osaka High Court in western Japan struck down an injunction by a lower court that had forced the two reactors to be shut down over safety concerns.

At issue were the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors at the Takahama nuclear plant in Fukui prefecture, some 350 kilometres (215 miles) west of Tokyo.

The district court in Otsu city near Fukui ordered Kansai Electric Power (KEPCO) in March last year to suspend their operations, spurring the utility to appeal.

KEPCO hailed the decision to cancel the injunction, saying the lower court's move "lacked rationality."

"Our company, while regarding safety as our priority, will seek to gain the understanding of Fukui prefecture as well as residents of host communities as we move toward restarting" the reactors, it said in a statement.

The government of Fukui prefecture, where the nuclear power industry is a major employer, approved the reactors' restart before the injunction, which was initiated by concerned residents of neighbouring Shiga prefecture.

But a crane accident at the Takahama plant in January prompted the prefecture to ask KEPCO for a safety review.

Yoshihide Suga, the government's top spokesman, refrained from commenting directly on the court decision, but said the government stands by its policy of promoting nuclear energy so long as reactors meet the nation's safety standards.

It was not immediately clear if the plaintiffs would appeal the ruling, but outside the courthouse they said judges failed to take into consideration the wishes of those living near the reactors.

"Unjust ruling that ignores national, regional public opinion," read a banner they unfurled after the decision.

"Judicial negligence that ignores wishes of residents," read another.

Anti-nuclear campaigners also denounced the ruling.

"While the overturning of the injunction was not wholly unexpected in the notoriously nuclear-friendly Japanese legal system, it clears the way for KEPCO to restart reactors that have serious unresolved safety issues," Kendra Ulrich of Greenpeace Japan said in a statement.