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Japanese court rejects call to halt restart of nuclear reactor amid evacuation concerns

Xinhua | Updated: 2023-05-24 18:42

An aerial view shows the storage tanks for treated water at the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Okuma town, Fukushima prefecture, Japan, Feb 13, 2021, in this photo taken by Kyodo. [Photo/Agencies]

TOKYO - A Japanese court on Wednesday rejected a call by local residents to halt the restart of a nuclear reactor in the northeast prefecture of Miyagi on grounds they believed emergency evacuation plans were flawed.

The Sendai District Court ruled that the plaintiffs' claims to halt the planned restart of the Onagawa nuclear plant's No 2 reactor in February 2024 were not relevant as a serious accident is unlikely.

"It cannot be assumed that a specific danger of an accident exists that leads to the abnormal release of radioactive materials," Presiding Judge Mitsuhiro Saito said.

He added when handing down his decision that there was no need to take into account whether the evacuation plans are effective, as there is no certainty regarding the potential danger.

The suit to halt the restart of the reactor at the plant operated by Tohoku Electric Power Co. was made by residents from neighboring Ishinomaki City, who said the city and prefecture's evacuation plans in the case of a severe emergency were "flawed and impractical."

The restarting of the idled reactor would mark the first in the northeastern area that was struck by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster that triggered the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986 following multiple meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

The lawsuit filed by the 17 residents, insisting the evacuation plans were flawed and insufficient, was in part based on their belief that in the case of another nuclear disaster, local residents would be unable to evacuate for an extended period of time, beyond a 30-kilometer radius of the plant, due to traffic congestion.

As such, they argued, residents would be at high risk of being exposed to radiation in the event of a disaster.

Following the ruling, however, Tohoku Electric said it will continue with plans to restart the reactor in February.

"The court acknowledged our claim. We will continue to cooperate as much as possible to improve the effectiveness of the evacuation plans," the utility said in a statement.

But concerns remain rife among residents in the area, in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.

"At the time of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant accident, there were fears that nobody would be able to live in the whole of the Tohoku region. I don't want nuclear reactors in the devastated areas to resume operations," one plaintiff was quoted by local media as saying.

The spokesperson for the plaintiffs following the ruling said that he would likely seek to file an appeal after consulting with lawyers.

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