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Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2003

Monju ruling delights antinuclear activists


Staff writer

OSAKA -- Antinuclear activists were euphoric over Monday's ruling against the Monju reactor by the Kanazawa branch of the Nagoya High Court, saying the decision will have a ripple effect on similar lawsuits.

News photo
The Monju fast-breeder reactor in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, is shown in this file photo taken in August 1999.

"Today's decision will strengthen the resolve of antinuclear groups fighting against nuclear power plant facilities in their own prefectures, especially Rokkasho village in Aomori Prefecture," said Hideyuki Ban, codirector of the Tokyo-based Citizen's Nuclear Information Center.

No rulings are expected in any of the Rokkasho lawsuits anytime soon, but Ban said his center's immediate strategy will be to use Monday's to support the lawsuits of those fighting the Rokkasho case.

"The Monju decision was based on clear, logical arguments," he said. "It is a very strong legal precedent that other courts will have to consider."

In the meantime, representatives of antinuclear organizations involved in the Monju suit will travel to Tokyo on Wednesday to meet with Diet members and officials of the Atomic Energy Commission and the Cabinet secretariat.

"We will present a petition that will, essentially, call for Monju to be scrapped," said Aileen Mioko Smith of Green Action Kyoto, which is part of a movement pushing for the Monju project to be abandoned.

But Smith and Ban expressed doubt that the historic decision, the first-ever victory by a citizens' group in a nuclear power plant lawsuit, would lead the national government to reconsider its program on fast-breeder reactors, which burn plutonium instead of conventional uranium fuel.

"I don't expect the national government to suggest a review of Japan's fast-breeder reactor program because of the decision," Ban said. "There is great debate within the government over the necessity of Monju, but today's decision will not make those who have stayed silent come out in opposition."

A fundamental review of the fast-breeder safety review process is more likely. Smith said the court effectively concluded that the government had not properly carried out a safety screening of Monju, ruling that it would have to redo the safety review from scratch.

"To do such a review will uncover all of the construction flaws, forcing Monju to be rebuilt," Smith said. "But to rebuild Monju would be far too expensive -- financially and politically."

The ruling is not the end of the legal issues surrounding Monju. The government is likely to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, and a separate civil suit over general safety issues at Monju is yet to be decided.

Still, Ban is optimistic that the civil suit, which is being heard by the same court and the same judge who issued Monday's ruling, will be won by the plaintiffs.

"After years of losing in the courts, antinuclear activists won a major victory Monday, one that will likely carry over to the civil suit," he said.

Power industry upset

The power industry expressed disappointment Monday at a high court ruling nullifying the government's approval of the trouble-plagued Monju fast-breeder nuclear reactor.

"The outcome is very hard on us," Yosaku Fuji, head of the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan, said in a statement. "Fast-breeder reactors are an important option for the future, next to light-water reactors, from the viewpoint of efficient use of uranium resources."

Fuji issued the statement after the Nagoya High Court ruled that the government's 1983 go-ahead for the construction of the reactor in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, was invalid.

Fuji said that the industry association will continue trying to win people over to nuclear power.



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