The verdict in a lawsuit launched by a group campaigning against the restarting of two reactors may answer that question soon.
The group, Green Action, filed a lawsuit asking the court to shut down the only two operating reactors in Japan at Ohi. The case is against nuclear utility KEPCO, the Ohi operator, and Japan’s government. The concern is that the Ohi reactors face a level of earthquake risk that they are not built to withstand and licensed for.
As we’ve seen in the two years since the Fukushima nuclear crisis began, earthquakes and nuclear reactors are a terrifying combination.
If the court agrees that the reactors should be shut down, Japan would be nuclear free again. The verdict could also have far-reaching consequences for the nuclear industry as a whole.
Seismic surveys have found that the Number 3 and Number 4 reactors at the Ohi nuclear power plant are close to three active earthquake faults. If all three faults were to intereact at the same time, the strength of a resulting quake would be big enough to impede the safety systems of the reactors.
Specifically, the control rods that are supposed to immediately shut a reactor would not be able to work quickly enough, within a time frame required by regulation.
Greenpeace supports Green Action and Japanese citizens in this trial. The technical arguments of the case are here
For Green Action the issue is one of human rights, based on the potential delay or disruption of the safety system from an earthquake. If this happened, there could be a catastrophic accident at Ohi that could result in damaging exposure to radiation for the plaintiffs.
This does not even take into account that – as the Fukushima disaster has shown – even a functioning shut-down system at a reactor does not necessarily prevent a meltdown of nuclear fuel and a major release of radiation.
So Ohi 3 and 4 must close. The Japanese government and the nuclear utilities must stop cutting corners and safety margins, sometimes even going against their own inadequate regulations.
A shutdown can be done and soon. The Japanese government has just announced that it expects no blackouts or the need for power saving measures this summer even though 48 of Japan’s 50 nuclear reactors are now out of action. In some areas people were able reduce their electricity use by as much as 15%.
The Japanese government should support its people’s fantastic example. Shut Ohi 3 and 4. Forget the nuclear past and look to the sustainable future. We hope the court agrees with our verdict.