Salvage of suspected poison gas munitions said to start next month

by the Poison Gas Issues Reporting Team

The Chugoku Shimbun interviewed Environment Minister Tetsuo Saito on July 17 in relation to some 20 suspected poison gas munitions found and left unattended off the coast of Ohkunoshima Island in Hiroshima Prefecture. The suspicious objects were found when the area was surveyed by the Ministry for a water pipeline project. The minister said that he would like to see the salvage operation of these objects begin in August.

As for the other roughly 15 similar objects found by the Chugoku Shimbun in the surrounding waters, Mr. Saito said that the initial 20 objects will be examined first, then appropriate measures will be determined based on the findings. An analysis of the contents of the objects will take about one month and further research in other areas around the island is not considered necessary at present, according to the Environment Ministry.

The 20 suspicious objects were found on January 19 when a contractor, commissioned by the Ministry, was surveying the area for a water pipeline project. In line with a cabinet decision, the Cabinet Secretariat was charged with resolving the matter, and on June 5 it was decided that the Ministry of the Environment would handle the suspected poison gas munitions. On June 22, five months after the objects were discovered, the decision was made to salvage and study the objects.

Responding to our comment that the decision on dealing with the problem took an unreasonable amount of time, Mr. Saito said, “We followed ministry policy since it was highly unlikely that the objects presented an immediate danger.” He added, “At the same time, we regret not acting more promptly to allay the anxiety of local citizens.”

(Originally published on July 18, 2009)

Related articles
Suspected poison gas munitions to be salvaged and disposed of (June 25, 2009)
Suspected poison gas munitions found off the coast of Ohkunoshima Island (June 24, 2009)