NAHA, Okinawa Pref. – Several hundred depleted-uranium shells, which were reportedly bought unwittingly by a junkyard dealer as scrap iron six to seven years ago from the U.S. military in Okinawa, have been identified at the yard in the town of Nishihara, the dealer said Wednesday.
The prefectural government said it would be deplorable if such material were sold to the private sector, due to the health risks the radioactive substance poses.
In Tokyo, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Fukushiro Nukaga said at a regular news conference, “It is important to allay the fears of the residents by investigating the incident.”
U.S. Marines in Okinawa said they are conducting a fact-finding investigation.
According to the dealer, the shells, 4 cm in diameter and 14 cm long, were found packed in a drum with the word “uranium” written on it.
Between 1995 and 1996, the U.S. Marine Corps fired about 1,500 depleted-uranium shells at Tori Island — an uninhabited island 100 km west of Okinawa’s main island — for target practice.
The U.S. Embassy in Tokyo later notified the Foreign Ministry that all of the Marines’ depleted-uranium ammunition had been removed from its bases in Japan.
However, a commander at the U.S. Kadena Air Base in Okinawa Prefecture on May 24 said that that 30-mm depleted-uranium shells for antitank machine guns are being kept at one of 580 facilities at the Kadena armory.
Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine said Monday he will ask U.S. military officials to provide more details about the depleted-uranium shells reportedly stored at Kadena.
Inamine said earlier that he had told the U.S. military to take all possible measures to prevent such incidents from being repeated.