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Japan May Not Restart Nuclear Reactors After All

Japan May Not Restart Nuclear Reactors After All

Japan may not return to nuclear power as quickly as its government had hoped.

Now more than four years after the Fukushima meltdown, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has prioritized a return to nuclear power as a way of easing his country’s energy shortages and enormous trade deficit. But a Japanese court just struck a huge blow to his plans of restarting some reactors.

A court issued an injunction on April 14 against two reactors in Fukui prefecture owned by Kansai Electric Power. Despite having passed a safety review from Japan’s Nuclear Regulatory Administration (NRA), the court blocked the restart of the reactors over safety concerns. Related: The $6.8 Billion Great Wall Of Japan: Fukushima Cleanup Takes On Epic Proportion

The reactors were slated to be some of the first to power up after several years of sitting idle, but the court’s move could add more delays. Local residents argued that Kansai and the NRA have not adequately considered and planned for earthquakes, nor has Kansai developed thorough evacuation plans. The court agreed. According to a Reuters report, the court wrote that the NRA’s standards for safety “lack rationality,” a cutting critique that could do lasting damage to the campaign to bring back nuclear power. More court rulings are coming in the weeks ahead, including an April 22 decision on Kyushu Electric Power’s effort to restart its Sendai reactors. Related: The Real History Of Fracking

If those court decisions also go against the utilities, nuclear power in Japan could be put on ice indefinitely. It would be unlikely that any restarts would occur in 2015. Moreover, to satisfy the courts about safety issues, the utilities would presumably face enormous new costs in safety upgrades, which could take years. Such a daunting journey could push utilities to scrap and decommission some reactors, perhaps deciding they are not worth the trouble. Just a month ago, Kansai Electric decided to decommission the Mihama No. 1 and 2 reactors, citing the high cost of safety upgrades. Another operator, Japan Atomic Power, also reported its decision to shelve one of its units permanently. More of these announcements could be in the offing if Japanese courts continue to rule against utilities. Related: Shell Betting Its Future On LNG

The Japanese public is strongly opposed to restarting reactors, something that the government has sought to work around. In the wake of the court’s decision, a government spokesperson reiterated that there would be no change in the Prime Minister’s position. But, the support of the Prime Minister may not be enough for reactors that are struggling to regain acceptance in the judiciary.

By Charles Kennedy for Oilprice.com

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