Japan’s nuclear restart has been checked by a group of worried citizens, who won a court ruling stopping two reactors from coming back online. The FT reports:
Hideaki Higuchi, the leading judge in the case, said it was “too optimistic” to assume that earthquakes that exceeded the facilities’ quake resistance standards would not occur and criticised the country’s post-Fukushima safety standards.
“The new regulatory standards are too lax and the safety of the reactors in question will not be ensured even if they meet the standards,” Mr Higuchi said, according to a statement of the ruling released on the court’s homepage.
This will come as a blow to Japan’s ambitions to restart its nuclear reactor fleet, which before the Fukushima disaster supplied roughly 30 percent of the nation’s electricity. But the residents who sued to stop these reactors from coming back online have good reason to be concerned. If you were looking to site a nuclear power plant anywhere in the world, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more dangerous place than Japan. It lies alongside a major fault, which exposes it to earthquakes and tsunamis—and on top of that, it also lies on the Pacific Ring of Fire, making volcanic eruptions a real threat as well. Nuclear energy has an important role to play in powering the global economy without emitting carbon, but as we saw in 2011, it’s vital that these plants are carefully sited.
This isn’t a death knell for nuclear in Japan—these were just 2 of the 48 shuttered reactors—but it does apply the brakes a little to the reportedly increasing momentum behind a country-wide restart. Japan has precious few conventional fossil fuels, and while it’s endeavoring to kickstart its solar industry with expensive subsidies, renewables can’t replace the kind of baseload power nuclear provided. That means relying on imports, an expensive solution that hurts Japan’s energy security. But at least there’s a silver lining: LNG prices in Asia have dropped precipitously along with the price of oil in the last year, a welcome discount on the energy source that replaced some 44 percent of Japan’s nuclear energy.