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Akita Election Deals Blow to Controversial Missile Defense System

SNA (Tokyo) – The planned construction of the Aegis Ashore missile defense system in Akita has once again suffered a blow as independent, opposition-supported candidate Shizuka Terata won in the House of Councillors election. Terata’s victory owes to the efforts of many in the region who are strongly opposed to the deployment of the facility so close to the city center.

The Ministry of Defense has announced plans to construct the Aegis Ashore, a US-developed missile defense system, in the cities of Akita (Akita Prefecture) and Hagi (Yamaguchi Prefecture). The deployment of these missile batteries, which will cost the equivalent of several billion US dollars, are intended to provide Japan with protection from missile threats from North Korea and other potential enemies.

The proposed location for the deployment in Akita is be the Ground Self-Defense Force’s Araya Training Area, only a few kilometers away from Akita City Hall, and almost directly adjacent to a local high school. The Ministry of Defense will acquire land owned by the prefectural government in order to build the missile launch sites and facilities. This will necessitate that the training site be expanded and existing wind turbines moved.

While plans for the battery allow a 700-meter buffer zone between the site and residential areas, many of those who remember Akita’s devastation by bombing in the Pacific War are convinced that deployment of such a system will once again put the city in the crosshairs.

Exposure to electromagnetic radiation from the site’s radar and its possible health effects is another concern that opponents cite.

Furthermore, the decision to construct the Aegis Ashore at Araya was based upon a flawed investigation conducted by the Ministry of Defense. Of the nineteen alternative locations for the site, all were deemed to be unsuitable in geological surveys due to the height of surrounding mountains which could block radar. The report released by the Ministry of Defense to the local government was found to be inconsistent and, in some areas, entirely false. The height and slopes of the mountains in the survey were described as larger and steeper than they are in reality, and the location of the site in Araya requires anti-tsunami measures despite the report asserting that it is under no risk for tsunamis.

The challenge of constructing the Aegis Ashore system stems mostly from convincing the people of Akita to allow the site to be built, and the mistakes and carelessness found in the Ministry of Defense’s report have only exacerbated the political difficulties. While the battery was planned to be operational by 2025, opposition to the project may cause significant delays.

In addition to the problems with the report itself, the Ministry of Defense was also criticized because a ministry official fell asleep during a public meeting meant to gain the understanding of the local residents. This carelessness drew considerable ire.

In the wake of these problems, Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya visited the prefectural headquarters and apologized on behalf of his ministry. While he stated that he intended to conduct new surveys and  to submit the correct information in an additional report, the decision to construct the missile defense site in the Araya area is unlikely to change.

The result of the July 21 House of Councillors election signifies a further blow, as Shizuka Terata’s political campaign was built largely on the promise to fight the Aegis Ashore deployment in Akita. Terata, an independent candidate, was backed by a coalition of opposition parties: the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, the Democratic Party For the People, the Social Democratic Party, and the Japan Communist Party.

In a neck-in-neck race with Liberal Democratic Party incumbent Matsuji Nakaizumi, Terata triumphed despite ruling party bigwigs such as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga visiting Akita during the election campaign to encourage citizens to vote for the incumbent Nakaizumi. Terata’s campaign, on the other hand, appealed to those who were against deployment while presenting herself as an unaffiliated independent.

Terata’s victory marks the first time in twelve years that an opposition candidate has won a seat in the House of Councillors representing Akita Prefecture. She is also the first woman in the prefecture’s history to be elected to the Upper House.

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