OMAEZAKI, Japan — The nuclear power plant, lawyers argued, could not withstand the kind of major earthquake that new seismic research now suggested was likely.
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Although the predictions sound eerily like the sequence of events at the Fukushima Daiichi plant following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, the lawsuit was filed nearly a decade ago to shut down another plant, long considered the most dangerous in Japan — the Hamaoka station.
It was one of several quixotic legal battles waged — and lost — in a long and largely futile attempt to improve nuclear safety and force Japan’s power companies, nuclear regulators, and courts to confront the dangers posed by earthquakes and tsunamis on some of the world’s most seismically active ground.
The lawsuits reveal a disturbing pattern in which operators underestimated or hid seismic dangers to avoid costly upgrades and keep operating. And the fact that virtually all these suits lost reinforces the widespread belief in Japan that a culture of collusion supporting nuclear power, including the government, nuclear regulators and plant operators, extends to the courts as well.
Yuichi Kaido, who represented the plaintiffs in the Hamaoka suit, which lost in a district court in 2007, said that victory could have led to stricter earthquake, tsunami and backup generator standards at plants across the nation.
“This accident could have been prevented,” Mr. Kaido, also the secretary general of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, said of Fukushima Daiichi. The operator of the plant, Chubu Electric Power Company, temporarily shut down Hamaoka’s two active reactors over the weekend, following an extraordinary request by Prime Minister Naoto Kan.