Japan is leaning toward reviewing its current plan to deploy the U.S.-developed Aegis Ashore land-based missile defense system in the northeastern city of Akita, due to strong local opposition, according to a government source.
If the government decides to give up its plan and looks for another candidate site, its goal of deploying the land-based defense system, aimed at countering the threat of North Korean missiles, as early as 2025 may be affected.
The plan to host the system at a Ground Self-Defense Force training area in Akita’s Araya district has come under fire after the Defense Ministry’s geographical survey used to select the candidate site was found to have contained errors.
The Aegis Ashore deployment is also unpopular among local residents. As the planned deployment site is only about 700 meters away from a residential area, people are concerned about damage to health from radar and electromagnetic waves emitted by facilities, which could also become a target in an armed conflict.
To find a new location to host the system, the government is expected to survey 19 different sites, including a GSDF training area in Hirosaki, Aomori Prefecture, and state-owned land in Akita and Yamagata prefectures.
The government plans to compile the results of the new survey and compare it with the existing plan around March at the earliest, the sources said.
“Given the local sentiment, it would be difficult to reselect the training area in Araya,” a senior government official said Tuesday. “The most important matter is the understanding of residents.”
A senior GSDF official acknowledged that “it is hard to say the training area is an appropriate site.”
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga has told the Defense Ministry to secure a deployment site with appropriate distance from residential areas when reviewing the candidates, according to the sources.
During a news conference last Friday, Defense Minister Taro Kono said the ministry would make a fair judgment, taking various issues into consideration.
Following the news that the deployment plan could be reviewed, Akita Gov. Norihisa Satake told reporters Wednesday that if the government is considering giving up on the Araya site, it would be “the right decision” to do so.
Satake pointed out that the plan to deploy the Aegis Ashore system in Araya was decided “in a very hasty manner.” Defense Ministry officials did not convey important matters to top government officials when the decision was initially made, Satake said.
Akita Mayor Motomu Hozumi told reporters separately Wednesday that the city had suffered due to confusion over the deployment plan in the past two years. “I must say that the way (the government) selected a candidate site was very lax if they decide to withdraw the plan,” Hozumi said.
Besides the Araya district, the ministry had picked the GSDF Mutsumi training area straddling Hagi and Abu in Yamaguchi Prefecture as an additional candidate site for hosting the defense system.
The ministry’s position, that the Mutsumi site in the southwestern prefecture is suitable for the deployment, remains unchanged. The sources said it plans to explain its policy to the prefectural government on Dec. 17.
The town of Abu is opposed to the deployment of the Aegis system.
Abu Mayor Norihiko Hanada told a town assembly meeting Wednesday that he expects a candidate site other than the one in Abu to be selected.
Noting that the distance from the deployment site to residential areas is a key factor, Hanada told reporters that the residential area in the town is only several hundred meters away from the GSDF training area. Given such proximity, the town is not suited for hosting the defense system, he said.