Photo/IllutrationThe Asahi Shimbun

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YAMAGUCHI--Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya’s apology tour here was greeted with anger that raised further doubts about the government’s plans to deploy land-based Aegis Ashore missile interception systems.

Iwaya visited the Yamaguchi prefectural government in Yamaguchi city on July 3 to apologize for a string of errors found in a ministry report concerning candidate sites for the missile defense systems.

The government plans to deploy the Aegis Ashore to the Ground Self-Defense Force’s Araya training area in Akita city, Akita Prefecture, and the GSDF’s Mutsumi training area in Hagi city, Yamaguchi Prefecture.

Residents in both areas have expressed concerns about health hazards from strong radar transmissions and the prospect of becoming a potential target for attack, possibly by North Korea.

The faulty report has amplified their objections.

“The whole of our town remains opposed,” Norihiko Hanada, mayor of Abu, a town neighboring Hagi, said at the meeting with Iwaya. “The ministry is nowhere close to gaining our support.”

Iwaya acknowledged the public’s distress arising from the erroneous report during the meeting, which was also attended by Yamaguchi Governor Tsugumasa Muraoka and Hagi Mayor Kenji Fujimichi.

“We have caused people in Yamaguchi Prefecture anxiety about the deployment after big mistakes were found in the ministry report on the deployment in Akita Prefecture,” Iwaya said.

All he could add was that his ministry will continue to make efforts to gain local support by carrying out thorough research.

The ministry report concluded that it in eastern Japan, the Araya training site was suitable for the Aegis Ashore defense system. However, the report misstated the height of surrounding mountains in other candidate sites and radio wave figures at the Araya training area. It also failed to mention the need for anti-tsunami measures to protect the Araya site.

The ministry report also showed the height of elevated ground located in the direction of radar transmissions was slightly different from the figure given by the Geospatial Information Authority of Japan.

It was later revealed that ministry employees used the Google Earth app to compile the data for the reports.

The Yamaguchi governor and Hagi mayor have not made clear their positions on the possible deployment.

“I expect the ministry to give us a full briefing based on accurate data with detailed figures,” Muraoka said.

Fujimichi expressed displeasure with the ministry report. He is considering visiting Romania to study the health impact of electromagnetic waves on humans. The U.S. military deploys Aegis Ashore systems there.

The ministry still contends the two sites in Japan are suitable for the missile defense systems, and has said it wants the deployments completed by 2023.

But a senior ministry official conceded that the public has lost faith in the ministry, and the government should proceed with the project without setting a deadline.

One key concern among residents in communities around the GSDF’s Mutsumi site is where the rocket booster of an interceptor missile would fall.

The ministry plans to set up a 700-meter buffer zone between residential areas and the Mutsumi training area to restrict the flight routes of the interceptor missiles. That arrangement is expected to make the boosters fall to the ground at the Mutsumi site.

The ministry also says it has the ability to maneuver the descent of the boosters by calculating the velocity and direction of the interceptor missiles, as well as the wind speed and direction.

The booster is about 53 centimeters in diameter, 170 cm long and weighs more than 200 kilograms.

The interceptor missile is expected to be fired in a northerly direction from the Mutsumi training area, which is situated somewhat inland, unlike the Araya exercise area that faces the sea in Akita.

The ministry’s confidence in safely deploying and operating the missile interceptor system failed to quell concerns that a booster could cause grave consequences by falling outside the Mutsumi site by accident.

“We cannot trust what the Defense Ministry says about its ability to control the descent of the booster after the series of errors were discovered in its reports,” said Masaaki Morikami, who heads a citizens group opposing the deployment in Hagi.

(This article was combined from reports by Kunihiro Hayashi, Kazufumi Kaneko and Ryuichi Yamashita.)