The Nuclear Regulation Authority on Feb. 22 published a draft safety inspection report saying measures taken at the Nos. 3 and 4 reactors of Kansai Electric Power Co.'s Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture meet the new stricter anti-disaster standards.

In 2014, however, the Fukui District Court ordered the operator to keep the two reactors offline, raising serious questions about their safety.

Some 160,000 people in Fukui, Kyoto and Shiga prefectures reside within 30 kilometers from the plant. It is also questionable whether local residents can be evacuated quickly and smoothly if a serious accident occurs at the plant.

In a recent Asahi Shimbun survey, 57 percent of the respondents expressed their opposition to the restart of offline nuclear reactors, nearly double the number of those who supported the idea.

Come next month, six years will have passed since the catastrophic accident broke out at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. Many Japanese remain unconvinced of the safety of nuclear reactors.

Kansai Electric Power is hoping to bring the two reactors back on line as early as this summer. But we find it difficult to support the plan.

There are multiple faults around the Oi plant. The biggest worry cited in the district court ruling was the possibility that a stronger earthquake than assumed could seriously damage the reactors or the spent fuel pool.

The electric utility has since appealed the ruling. But the company has also raised the estimated maximum ground acceleration that could occur in an earthquake at the location.

The utility will spend 122 billion yen ($1.07 billion) on measures to enhance the safety of the plant.

But Kunihiko Shimazaki, a seismologist and former acting chairman of the NRA, has warned against the plan. Using observation data about the powerful earthquakes that hit areas around Kumamoto Prefecture in April last year, he has argued that the utility’s calculation method may have underestimated the biggest potential shaking of a quake at the location.

After reviewing the data, the NRA dismissed Shimazaki’s argument, with Chairman Shunichi Tanaka calling it “groundless.”

But the scientist’s warning has deepened anxiety among local residents.

The spent fuel pools at Kansai Electric Power’s three nuclear power plants including Oi are almost filled to the brim.

The utility says it will build an interim storage facility outside Fukui Prefecture around 2030 so that used fuel rods can be removed from the pools.

But the company has yet to map out a specific and workable plan to build such a facility.

In January, a large crane toppled in strong winds at the utility’s Takahama nuclear power plant, also in Fukui Prefecture, damaging the roofs of two buildings.

The accident occurred as the company failed to notify the contractor operating the crane of a storm warning, and the contractor failed to fold up the crane in advance.

The lesson of the Fukushima nuclear accident is that maximum possible safety measures should be taken to guard against the risks posed by natural phenomena. It came as a dire warning about underestimating such risks.

Even the Fukui prefectural government, which has been keen to support Kansai Electric’s plan to bring reactors back online, has expressed skepticism about the utility’s trustworthiness.

“It is difficult to place sufficient confidence in the company’s operations of nuclear plants,” the deputy Fukui governor has said.

The focus of the utility’s efforts to restart the reactors will shift to gaining local support for the plan.

The company has stuck to the position that only the governments of Fukui Prefecture and the town of Oi, where the plant is located, have the de facto “right to consent” to its plan under a safety agreement between the operator and the local governments.

A severe accident, however, could cause damage in wide areas in the Kansai region, for example, by polluting Lake Biwa in Shiga Prefecture, the largest lake in Japan.

The utility should not proceed with the plan to restart the reactors without obtaining support from areas where local residents would have to be evacuated in the event of a major accident.

We demand again that the company gain consent to the plan at least from all local governments within 30 km from the plant, including those in Kyoto and Shiga prefectures.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 23