• Kyodo

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The Defense Ministry said Tuesday a Ground Self-Defense Force training area in Yamaguchi Prefecture remains a candidate site for a U.S.-developed missile defense system, based on a new survey conducted after the initial one contained numerical errors.

A new report compiled by the ministry concluded the Mutsumi training area was the “only suitable place among state-owned lands (in the region) to meet requirements” for deploying the Aegis Ashore land-based system aimed at countering the threat of North Korean missiles.

In the original survey of the Mutsumi training area, which straddles Hagi and Abu in Yamaguchi Prefecture, the elevation of a hill near the site, which was calculated using Google Earth, did not match data provided by the governmental Geopolitical Information Authority of Japan.

The ministry used an airborne laser system for measurements in the new survey and found the maximum angle between the training site and the hill met the condition for the Aegis system to detect missiles. Areas close to high mountains that block radio waves emitted by radar are viewed as undesirable for the system.

Senior Vice Defense Minister Tomohiro Yamamoto on Tuesday briefed Yamaguchi Gov. Tsugumasa Muraoka as well as Abu Mayor Norihiko Hanada and Hagi Mayor Kenji Fujimichi about the report at the Yamaguchi Prefectural Government office.

Muraoka welcomed the report, saying the fresh review has provided “more concrete explanations” about the deployment plan, and asked the ministry to fully inform local assembly members and residents of it in briefing sessions starting Wednesday.

Hanada, who is opposed to the deployment of the missile defense system, noted the training area is “too close” to residential areas.

The Aegis Ashore system “puts the existence of the town in jeopardy,” he said. “I would like you to abandon the plan to deploy it” here.

Fujimichi voiced similar concerns, saying, “At this point, the fears and concerns of the local residents have not been alleviated.”

The Hagi mayor added it would be difficult to clarify his stance on the deployment plan before knowing the results of a fresh survey on another candidate site at a GSDF training area in Akita Prefecture, which will end around next March.

The government has been reconsidering the Aegis deployment plan in Akita after drawing fire for making numerical mistakes in the previous geographical survey based on Google Earth map data.

The Aegis Ashore deployment is unpopular among local residents, who are concerned about damage to their health from radar and electromagnetic waves emitted by the facilities, which could become a target in an armed conflict.

“Radar waves are safe and even the most powerful ones do not affect the human body,” said the ministry’s new report on the Yamaguchi training area, which included opinions from a panel of experts.

To find a new site for hosting the Aegis system, the government has been looking into 19 different locations, reviewing them “from scratch,” according to government sources.

The government decided in 2017 to deploy two batteries to counter the threat of North Korean missiles.

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