March 9, 2016 / 6:53 AM / a year ago

Japan court issues injunction to halt Takahama nuclear reactors

TOKYO (Reuters) - A Japanese court on Wednesday ordered Kansai Electric Power to halt operations at two nuclear reactors at its Takahama plant, disrupting Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's efforts to restore atomic power five years after the Fukushima crisis.

The move could potentially throw government energy policy into disarray, with the nuclear industry only recently starting to get reactors back online amid widespread public scepticism after the meltdowns at Fukushima in 2011.

The order by the Otsu District Court, a copy of which was seen by Reuters, demands the halt of the No. 3 and No. 4 nuclear reactors at Takahama and takes immediate effect. This is the first injunction issued in Japan to halt a nuclear plant that is under operation.

Kansai said it will shut the No. 3 reactor, which restarted in January, on Thursday.

Kansai Electric had been working to restart the Takahama No. 4 reactor this month after an unplanned shutdown due to a technical problem last week.

Japanese lower courts sometimes hand down contentious verdicts that are then overturned by higher courts, where judges tend to be more attuned to political implications, judicial experts say.

Kansai Electric said it would not accept the verdict and would quickly appeal the injunction, but it could mean months or possibly a year of delays and extra costs for oil, gas or coal to replace the nuclear generation.

"This is a wake up call for nuclear industry and the government. They can no longer take for granted that the judiciary will follow the old ways," said Mutsuyoshi Nishimura, a former Japanese government official and chief climate change negotiator.

Japan's chief government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said that there was no change in Tokyo's stance on safety at the Takahama reactors or in its policy of promoting the restart of reactors that meet new safety standards.

A Kansai Electric spokesman said it has now become extremely difficult to enact a reduction in the power fees that it charges customers planned for May that would have passed on the fuel cost savings from the Takahama restart.

Kansai, which in January projected its first profits in five years for this business year as a result of the Takahama plant restart and lower energy prices, said it cannot estimate the impact on earnings.

Kansai is aiming to restart two reactors at its Ohi nuclear plant, which is close to clearing the regulator's safety checks, after a separate court decision in December paved the way for the restart of the Takahama and Ohi plants.

Additional reporting by Kentaro Hamada and Linda Sieg; Editing by Joseph Radford and Christian Schmollinger

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