Photo/IllutrationA lawyer representing the plaintiffs holds up a sign calling the Saga District Court’s ruling “unjust” alongside people with banners protesting the restart of the Saga nuclear plant in Saga on March 20. (Motoki Nagasawa)

SAGA--The Saga District Court on March 20 rejected a temporary injunction barring the upcoming restart of two reactors at the Genkai nuclear plant, saying there is no evidence to support a lack of safety at the facility.

The plaintiffs are planning to appeal to the Fukuoka High Court.

A group of about 70 citizens in Saga and four other prefectures, including a civic group opposing the restart of the Genkai plant, filed a request for the provisional injunction in January 2017.

With the ruling, operator Kyushu Electric Power Co. is set to bring the No. 3 reactor at the Genkai plant in Genkai, Saga Prefecture, back online as early as on March 23. It also aims to restart the No. 4 reactor at the same plant in May. The reactors have the capacity of generating 1.18 gigawatts each.

At issue in the case is the risk of a volcano eruption impacting the plant and the effectiveness of the new reactor regulations adopted by the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The NRA’s guidelines concerning volcanoes call for assessing the impact of an eruption for all volcanoes within a 160-kilometer radius from the plant.

Mount Aso in Kumamoto Prefecture is located 130 km from the plant, and the plaintiffs pointed out the potential of a serious nuclear accident in the event of a pyroclastic flow from the mountain.

But the court dismissed their argument, saying, “there exists no recognizable, specific danger concerning that.”

The court stated in its ruling that no magma reservoir has been confirmed in the layers of earth up to 10 km beneath the surface of Mount Aso.

In a similar filing, the Saga District Court’s ruling differs from the Hiroshima High Court’s decision in December (http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201712130050.html).

The high court issued a provisional injunction ordering the suspension of operations of the No. 3 reactor at the Ikata nuclear plant in Ikata, Ehime Prefecture, through September.

The high court concluded that there was a possibility that the Ikata plant could be engulfed by a pyroclastic flow from Mount Aso if an eruption occurred similar in scale to a massive one 90,000 years ago. The Ikata plant is about the same distance as the Genkai plant from the volcano.

On the new regulations, the court supported them, saying, “They are reasonable as they are compiled on the basis of the latest science and technology standards.”

Under the tougher regulations, nuclear plant operators are required to enhance the safety of their facilities to protect them from a serious accident.

The Saga prefectural government and the Genkai town hosting the plant support the restart.

But municipalities such as Imari in Saga Prefecture and Iki, Hirado and Matsuura in Nagasaki Prefecture, which are within a 30-km radius of the plant, remain opposed to the restart.

Municipalities within the 30-km zone are obligated to compile evacuation plans to prepare for a possible accident at a nuclear plant, according to the central government guidelines that were set after the Fukushima disaster.

(This article was written by Kenro Kuroda and Yuta Ichijo.)