Ministers to work on Atsugi dioxin case

Three Cabinet ministers reconfirmed Friday their plan to cooperate closely to resolve an air pollution problem at a U.S. military base in Atsugi, Kanagawa Prefecture.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Mikio Aoki, Foreign Minister Yohei Kono and Defense Agency chief Tsutomu Kawara agreed to “cooperate with various ministries to deal with the problem,” government spokesman Aoki said at a news conference.

The U.S. has complained that an industrial waste disposal facility releasing dioxin in the vicinity of the U.S. Naval Air Facility in Atsugi is threatening the health of U.S. Navy personnel and their families.

A joint survey by the Japanese government and the U.S. military, conducted over 56 days from July, detected higher-than-normal dioxin levels in the air at the base, located 350 meters from the incinerator.

Facility operator Enviro-Tech has said it will install a particle-collecting filter in two of its three incinerators near the U.S. base this month and install a filter in the third one in April.

Kawara will visit the waste disposal facility before Tuesday, ahead of U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen’s arrival in Japan on Wednesday.

Cohen has reportedly expressed an intention to visit the waste disposal facility before meeting with Kawara.

In November, the U.S. asked Japan to suspend operations at the facility. Cohen said in January that Washington will consider taking legal action if Japan continues to fail to deal with the matter.

The Environment Agency said Thursday that Japan and the U.S. military in Japan will jointly launch later this month a one-year investigation into the dioxin pollution, at a cost of 230 million yen to the Japanese government.

Heliport protest set

A group of lawyers, scholars and religious leaders will hold a rally March 17 in Tokyo to protest the proposed relocation of a U.S. military heliport to the northern Okinawa city of Nago, according to rally organizers.

Lawyer Masatoshi Uchida told reporters in the House of Representatives Members Office in Tokyo that the rally, to be held at 6:30 p.m. in Hibiya Park, will feature reactions of residents of the Henoko district, the planned relocation site.

The group expects about 5,000 participants at the rally, he said.

Uchida, one of the organizers, said: “The government is pushing responsibility for national security onto Okinawa Prefecture, and the prefecture onto the city of Nago. The city is pushing it onto the Henoko district. We want to give people a chance to think about the issue as a national issue, not a local one,” Uchida added.

The government endorsed a plan in December to build a joint military-civilian airport in the Henoko district of Nago to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps’ helicopter operations from Futenma Air Station in Ginowan.

The prefectural government set a 15-year limit as a condition for accepting the relocation plan, but Tokyo has yet to accept the requested time limit.