Local governments are required to come up with evacuation plans -
Just in case.
HAKODATE, Hokkaido -- The Hakodate municipal government will file a lawsuit demanding a halt to construction of a nuclear power plant across the Tsugaru Strait, arguing that an accident there could have catastrophic consequences for the city.
The lawsuit against the central government and the electric power company building the nuclear plant in Oma, Aomori Prefecture, on the northern tip of Japan's main island of Honshu, will be filed with the Tokyo District Court as early as March.
It will be the first lawsuit by a local government seeking the suspension of nuclear power plant construction.
Hakodate Mayor Toshiki Kudo announced the legal measure on Feb. 12.
Kudo was elected a month after the Fukushima nuclear accident started in March 2011 on promises to demand a permanent freeze on the construction of the Oma nuclear plant.
Tokyo-based Electric Power Development Co. (J-Power) is expected to submit an application for safety clearance for its single-reactor Oma nuclear power plant with the Nuclear Regulation Authority this spring.
It is J-Power's first nuclear power plant, and will have a generating capacity of 1.38 gigawatts, according to the company.
The Oma plant is also expected to become the world's first nuclear facility that uses only mixed-oxide fuel, a mixture of uranium and plutonium retrieved from spent fuel.
An official with the publicity section at J-Power's local unit declined to comment on the expected lawsuit.
"We cannot comment at a stage when the filing of the lawsuit has yet to be finalized," the official said. "We have been providing Hakodate with information (about the plant) and will continue to do so."
Part of the area under Hakodate's administrative jurisdiction falls within the central government-designated Urgent Protective Action Planning Zone (UPZ), a 30-kilometer radius of a nuclear power plant.
The shortest distance between Hakodate and the Oma plant is about 23 km.
Local governments are required to come up with evacuation plans within the UPZ for a possible nuclear disaster.
In the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, all residents in Namie, a town within 30 km of the crippled plant, were forced to flee.
In the lawsuit, Hakodate city plans to argue that a local government has the right to prevent its possible destruction, just as individuals have personal rights for guarantees of their lives and safety.
Hakodate will also maintain that the government's approval for the construction of the Oma plant is illegal because it was based on reactor safety standards set before the Fukushima crisis unfolded.
Construction of the Oma plant started in May 2008, was suspended after the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami caused the Fukushima disaster, and resumed in October 2012.
Hakodate is also expected to argue that as part of official procedures for constructing nuclear plants, the owners should be required to obtain the consent of local governments within a 30-km radius of the nuclear plants.
Under the current setup, plant owners are obliged to gain approval only from the prefectural and municipal governments that host the plants.
The Hakodate government plans to seek approval of the planned lawsuit in a city assembly session that opens later this month.
City officials said many assembly members have already expressed support for the legal action.
Hiroyuki Kawai, a lawyer involved in a string of lawsuits concerning nuclear power plants around the nation, will coordinate a 10-member legal team that will represent Hakodate.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga declined to comment on the matter last month, when the word of the potential lawsuit spread.
"We want to refrain from commenting before the suit is brought before the court," he said at a news conference on Jan. 22. "With regard to the operation of the plant, the most important thing is that its safety is confirmed by the Nuclear Regulation Authority since Japan now has set the world's most stringent safety standards."
Tsuneyoshi Asami, a former Oma mayor who had led efforts to bring a nuclear power plant to the town since the 1970s, said Oma turned to the project to reinvigorate the local economy.
"I understand how citizens in Hakodate are feeling," said Asami, 76. "(The nuclear power plant project) is meant to revive the town of Oma. The state and the plant operator should make efforts to gain the understanding of Hakodate residents."
The coastal town is famous for its high-grade tuna, which often fetch eye-popping prices at auction. However, hauls of tuna, kelp, sea urchin, abalone and other marine products have been shrinking.
"Oma was permeated with a sense of crisis that the town may cease to exist," Asami said, recalling the days when the town was desperate to attract a nuclear power plant.
Current Oma Mayor Mitsuharu Kanazawa said Jan. 21 that he was aware of Hakodate's plan to seek legal action to suspend plant construction but added that his position to promote nuclear power will not change.
Apart from the Oma plant, two nuclear reactors--in Aomori Prefecture and Shimane Prefecture--are currently being built in Japan.
The Abe administration is pushing to bring the nation's 48 idled reactors back online as soon as their safety is cleared.