Responses from Nuclear Engineers in Japan

This radical message by the court promptly attracted strong attention from nuclear engineers in Japan, as well as from other stakeholders and citizens. Almost all responses from nuclear experts were vivid criticism, or even outrage, against the decision. They found many faults among the technical descriptions in the judgment and concluded the decision had serious deficits because of “misunderstanding” about the upgraded safety measures of the Oi NPP.

The Atomic Energy Society of Japan (AESJ), the most comprehensive professional and academic body in the nuclear field in Japan and the counterpart to the American Nuclear Society (ANS), published their press release about the court's judgment on May 27 and strictly criticized it because “it might cause serious mis- understanding among people about improved safety measures at the nuclear power plant”[1] [2]. It accuses the court's formulation of the problem as “an opinion that calls for 'zero risk'” and as “not appropriate as the legal decision by court.” It criticizes the court their denial of “engineering safety” because it is accepted in “almost all fields of science and technology” and “it is unfair that the court does not accept it for nuclear power stations though they should be impartial.”

It also argues that another Fukushima-class nuclear accident is preventable by implementation of appropriate counter-tsunami, anti-severe-accident, and disaster prevention measures so that it would not violate personal rights.

Many nuclear experts showed quite similar opinions in newspapers, on the web, and in other media. It was an “unscientific” or even “anti-scientific” challenge from a legal expert—the Chief Judge of the Fukui District Court—who doesn't have sufficient and appropriate technological expertise. Conservative newspapers (Yomiuri, Nikkei and Sankei newspapers) also published their editorials and extend their support to such opinions [3–5], while their liberal counterparts (Asahi, Mainichi and Tokyo newspapers) admired the court's decision [6–8].

However, such criticisms themselves contain many “misunderstandings.” For example, AESJ's press release criticizes the denial of the nuclear risk by the court as “zero-risk” oriented thinking but it is not the case. The judgment distinguishes the nuclear risk by its nature and the scale of hazard potential, not by its probability or so-called “death-ratio” as the author introduced earlier. It never naively calls for “zero-risk.” Rather, it questions the destructive nature of nuclear risk itself in terms of qualitative considerations.

Also, some arguments cited judicial precedent sentenced by the Supreme Court about the appropriateness of the safety review of nuclear facilities and point out the contradiction between it and this judgment, but it is also incorrect.[2] The former one was an administrative lawsuit so that the court reviewed the legality of the safety review, but this case was a civil case about human-rights violation. These two types of lawsuits have different nature and the points in dispute are also different. Therefore the judgments can be legitimated by different logics. The later judgment carefully clarifies the differences of the jurisdictions before it comes to the detailed considerations of the illegalness of the NPP operation in terms of the constitutional human-rights violation.

The critics of the decision by the Fukui District Court seems to misunderstand, or at least not to read the sentence carefully, before they expressed their outrage against the legally powerful and fundamental denial of nuclear power utilization. Why could not they catch the point raised by the Court? Why did they show such reaction against the decision?

  • [1] Translated by the author. The following quotations are also.
  • [2] Ikata NPP (owned and operated by Shikoku Electric Company) safety review case is cited in their arguments. This was the first case of a lawsuit that dealt with the legality of the national Governmental safety review for commercial nuclear power stations. In that case, the Supreme Court of Japan established their criteria on the legality of safety review. It admitted relatively broad administrative discretionary powers on each case for governmental ministries and agencies and limited their jurisdiction to the appropriateness of the process of safety review.
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