A Japanese court on Tuesday ordered a nuclear power plant in Hokkaido to remain offline as requested by over 1,000 plaintiffs due to safety concerns, in a rare decision issued while the operator is seeking permission from authorities to restart the plant.
The Sapporo District Court ruled that Hokkaido Electric Power Co. should not resume operation of all three reactors at its Tomari nuclear plant in northern Japan in the suit filed in November 2011. It marks the third district court ruling for a nuclear plant to be suspended.
But the court rejected that the plant be decommissioned as requested by some 1,200 plaintiffs including local residents, in the first ruling on the scrapping of a nuclear power station.
All three reactors had been taken offline for regular inspections by May 2012 and remain idled, with Hokkaido Electric Power undergoing screening by the Nuclear Regulation Authority to restart them under tighter rules introduced after the 2011 Fukushima crisis.
In the latest in a series of similar suits filed since the nuclear crisis, Presiding Judge Tetsuya Taniguchi said the power company has "not provided evidence of the safety" of spent nuclear fuel stored at the plant and the plant does not have adequate protection against tsunami.
The court ruled that in the case of a plant accident, 44 of the plaintiffs who live within a 30-kilometer radius would have their human rights hindered.
Taniguchi added that the court had decided in January to terminate the hearing as the utility was not expected to be able to provide evidence for its claims in the foreseeable future.
"This is the first step toward creating a future without nuclear power plants in Hokkaido. It's groundbreaking," said 69-year-old Takeichi Saito, who led the group of plaintiffs.
But Hokkaido Electric Power said it cannot accept the ruling and will "promptly" file an appeal.
The company said in a release that it had repeatedly explained to the court the safety of the plant from both scientific and technical standpoints.
The case is a setback for the government's efforts to reboot reactors that meet the post-Fukushima regulations after the nuclear disaster led to a nationwide halt of nuclear plants and increased dependence on coal-fired and gas-fired power generation.
Japan will likely need to rely on nuclear power to meet its goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 and cutting greenhouse gas emissions 46 percent in fiscal 2030 from fiscal 2013 levels. As of May 16, only 10 of the country's 36 reactors have resumed operation under the stricter rules.
The country is also faced with the issue of reducing dependence on Russian coal and gas following Moscow's aggression against Ukraine.
The plaintiffs argued there are active faults near the Tomari plant and in the nearby sea and the operator could be underestimating the size of potential earthquakes when designing the reactors' quake resistance.
They claimed soil liquefaction could occur around seawalls near the plant in the event of an earthquake and the utility has not taken sufficient measures to protect against tsunami.
The power company countered that there are no active faults around the nuclear complex or in the nearby sea, and that the possibility of soil liquefaction is low.
Other district courts ordered the suspension of the Oi nuclear power plant's No. 3 and 4 units in Fukui Prefecture in May 2014, and Tokai No. 2 located in Ibaraki Prefecture in March 2021.
However, no rulings over reactor suspension have been finalized. The order on the Oi plant was subsequently overturned by a high court and the Tokai No. 2 case is still pending.