* Japan court rejects Kansai Electric safety assurances
* Decision on Ohi plants does not halt restarts
* Utility vows to appeal, govt to press on with restarts
(Adds excerpts from the verdict, reactions, analysis)
By Mari Saito and Aaron Sheldrick
TOKYO, May 21 A Japanese court on Wednesday
ruled against restarting a nuclear power plant in a rare victory
for antinuclear activists after the Fukushima disaster, and
dealing a blow to government efforts to end a nationwide nuclear
The ruling against the restart of a western power station
run by Kansai Electric Power Co was a scathing critique
of the Japanese nuclear industry's risk management, but does not
block a restart under Japanese law as it is not a final ruling.
The utility, the country's second-largest, which supplies
electricity to a key manufacturing region, said it would appeal
the ruling against restarting reactors 3 and 4 at the Ohi
nuclear plant in Fukui prefecture, 500 km (310 miles) west of
All 48 of Japan's nuclear reactors have been idled for
safety checks after an earthquake and tsunami triggered triple
meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co's Fukushima
Daiichi plant, forcing more than 150,000 residents to evacuate.
Japan faces the unprecedented task of decommissioning all
three of the destroyed reactors in the coming decades.
"Atomic power is important to society but it is a means to
produce electricity and it is subordinate to the fundamental
cornerstone of personal rights," the three Fukui District Court
judges wrote in their ruling.
The court rejected Kansai Electric's safety guarantees as
insufficient in addressing the seismological risk.
"From the perspective of protecting personal rights and
health from radioactive substances, this leaves doubts about
whether safety technology and equipment will be sufficient.
"To the contrary, it forces us to admit that this is a
fragile notion without a firm basis, predicated on an optimistic
Kansai Electric called the ruling "regrettable".
While the district court decision does not legally block the
restart of the reactors, bringing them back online in the face
of such a judicial verdict could open the regulator and the
government to criticism.
The Japanese public is sceptical of nuclear power, which
provided about 30 percent of the electricity used by the world's
third-biggest economy before the Fukushima disaster.
Opposition to restarts runs about two-to-one in recent
polls, while a March survey in the Asahi newspaper found that 80
percent favoured a gradual exit from atomic power.
"This is a landmark ruling, one that gives voice to many
residents who live near nuclear plants, who have previously had
no voice," said city councilwoman Harumi Kondaiji of Tsuruga
City in Fukui prefecture, 60 km from the Ohi plant.
Yet antinuclear forces have failed to turn sentiment into
political clout against the pro-nuclear government of Prime
Minister Shinzo Abe, who has vowed to restart plants that pass
the tougher, post-Fukushima safety checks.
A Reuters analysis in April indicated the Ohi reactors were
among the most likely to be restarted.
Wednesday's ruling complicates the restart of other
reactors, with the safety checks bogged down by paperwork and
disputes over interpreting new guidelines.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga reaffirmed the
government's plan to restart reactors that pass regulatory
Japan's top nuclear regulator told reporters it would
continue vetting the Ohi plants, but declined to comment on the
But nuclear opponent Aileen Mioko Smith, of the group Green
Action, said the rare victory came "right in the middle of the
restart process...It could have very well have repercussions."
An Osaka court this month rejected a suit against the Ohi
reactors in which Smith's group was a plaintiff.
(Additional reporting by Aaron Sheldrick, Osamu Tsukimori and
Elaine Lies; Editing by Nick Macfie, William Mallard and