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HOME  > Past issues  > 2018 November 14 - 20  > Japan bears cost to clean up contamination at returned US bases under SOFA
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2018 November 14 - 20 TOP3 [US FORCES]

Japan bears cost to clean up contamination at returned US bases under SOFA

November 16, 2018
Article 4 of the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) absolves the U.S. military in Japan from responsibility to restore base sites to their original conditions at the time of their return to Japan. This imposes on Japan a large cost to clear up the high levels of contamination at bases.

Every time a U.S. base is returned to Japan, the Japanese government and the base-hosting local government need to pay tens of millions of yen to investigate the extent of contamination and remove contaminated soil. For example, in the case where a portion of the U.S. Kadena base was returned to Okinawa, 940 million yen was paid as of 2016 for the decontamination work after drums contaminated with chemical substances, such as dioxin, were found there in 2013.

Kawamura Masami who heads the Okinawa-based environmental organization Informed-Public Project pointed out that in order to prevent the huge amount of taxpayers’ money from being spent to clear toxic waste from former U.S. bases, it is necessary to establish a framework under which Japan can obtain information from the U.S. and enter U.S. bases for an investigation of the extent of pollution ahead of the return.

In September 2015, as a supplement to the SOFA, an environmental agreement that gives access to U.S. bases to Japanese authorities at the national and local levels was signed. Prime Minister Abe has been boasting about this agreement as a success for Japan. However, the agreement states that access to U.S. bases by the Japanese side can be allowed only when it does not interrupt with base operations. It also states that the U.S. will “give all due consideration” to Japan’s requests for on-site inspections and the sampling of polluted water and/or soil.

The Environment Ministry claims that when environmental pollution is found at a U.S. base, the ministry will discuss with a subcommittee of the Japan-U.S. joint committee “as needed” and take measures. However, the past discussions’ minutes are off-the-record.

Goto Masahiko, a lawyer working on U.S. Yokosuka base issues, said that in Germany and Italy, which are also major U.S. allies, the U.S. military abides by these nations’ domestic laws and bears the cost to clean up any pollution.

As pointed out by the lawyer, in Germany, under the “Bonn agreement”, supplementary arrangements to the NATO SOFA, the nation’s environment law is applied to U.S. bases and their activities. In addition, the agreement requires the U.S. military to pay decontamination costs in principle when bases are returned.

Past related articles:
> Yokohama JCP: US military should return its site after clean-up of contamination [September 30, 2015]
> JCP Okinawa: state should clean up toxic waste at former US base site [February 14, 2014]
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