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Last Updated: Friday, 24 March 2006, 10:08 GMT
Japan court orders reactor closed
Plaintiffs and lawyers celebrate outside court in Ishikawa, Japan - 24/3/06
Residents celebrate, holding a banner that reads 'lawsuit won'
A court has ordered Japan's newest nuclear reactor to be shut down over fears about its safety in the event of an earthquake.

Residents filed a lawsuit saying the Shika reactor, north-west of Tokyo, could leak radiation during a quake.

The plant, which only began operating nine days ago, will stay open until an appeal filed by the company is heard.

Japan is heavily reliant on nuclear power but confidence has been hit by a series of incidents in recent years.

Earlier this week a fire broke out at another nuclear plant, Ohi, in western Japan, which injured two people. And in 2004, five workers were killed at the Mihama reactor, also in the country's west, when a corroded pipe split and sprayed workers with steam and boiling water.

Geologically unstable

The protest group, which has 135 members and is based near the Shika plant in Ishikawa, first filed the lawsuit six and a half years ago, when construction first started on the country's second largest reactor.

The local residents said the Number 2 reactor was constructed using outdated government safety guidelines.

They claimed they would be in constant danger of major accidents because it is near a fault line, where government experts say a major quake with a magnitude of 7.6 could strike.

There are 55 nuclear reactors in operation in Japan and most of them lie in potential earthquake zones.

If the Kanazawa ruling is upheld by the high court, that would place enormous pressure on the authorities to close down other reactors as most designs in Japan are similar and the Kanazawa plant is the most modern and therefore, in theory, the safest, says the BBC correspondent in Tokyo, Jonathan Head.

The power company said it took all necessary measures to ensure the plant's safety in the event of an earthquake.

Japan relies on nuclear power plants for approximately a third of its electricity needs. The government says it wants to build an additional 11 nuclear plants.

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