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U.S. jets fired radioactive bullets near Okinawa

Land

Japan informed of incident a year later

February 10, 1997
Web posted at: 12:00 p.m. EST (1700 GMT)

TOKYO (CNN) -- U.S. military jets accidentally used radioactive bullets in training exercises near Okinawa over a year ago, but military officials did not inform the Japanese government until last month.

A spokesperson for the Japanese Foreign Ministry confirmed the January 15 receipt of a report citing exercises held at the Tori Shima gunnery range, an uninhabited coral island 62 miles from Okinawa, between December 1995 and January 1996.

"It is more regrettable that the U.S. delayed reporting the incident, rather than the fact they had used radioactive bullets," Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto told NHK television.

A U.S.-Japan agreement stipulates that no nuclear weapons may be stored on Okinawa during peacetime, but the depleted uranium ammunition is classified as conventional weaponry. The uranium's density enables such bullets to penetrate armored vehicles, but spent rounds are harmful only if ingested.

Troops

U.S. military officials expressed regret for the incident and assured the Japanese that steps would be taken to prevent it from happening again.

The bullets were fired at the gunnery range from U.S. Marine AV-8B Harrier jets carrying 25mm rounds of the explosive uranium. The jets reportedly fired more than 1,500 bullets.

Over the past year, Okinawa residents have been increasingly vocal in their opposition to the U.S. military presence on their island. Masahide Ota, the island's governor, said such incidents underscore his constituency's discomfort with the current arrangement.

 
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