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Bomb disposal sites To become difficult

Date Posted: 2004-11-26

A graveyard for old bombs lies off the southeastern coast of Okinawa, near Miyako Island.

The watery grave 6,000 meters beneath the surface is the resting place for tons of 500-pound bombs from World War II. Largest and most dangerous of the bombs are yellow phosphorus explosives which erupt when exposed to the air.

Japan’s Self Defense Agency has responsibility for recovering old munitions from all of Okinawa Prefecture, and is responsible for their detonation or safe storage. The southern graveyard has been hardened by concrete, and is reinforced twice each year to safeguard the rusting explosives. Roughly half of the bombs found are disposed at the underground site.

That’s about to change, though, because of an international treaty soon to be ratified. The London Agreement of 1996 prohibits ocean disposal of waste products. Ministry of the Environment’s Earth Environmental Section says they don’t know what will happen to the bomb disposal site when the new treaty kicks into effect. It requires ratification by 26 countries; 21 have already inked the pact.

Japanese Self Defense Force leaders say it’s going to mean a shift to open air detonations. “We will take the bombs from the bottom, and instead explode the bomb on the ground.” American military guidelines are that explosive detonations should be limited to 50 kilograms each. JSDF officials say there are more than 1,500 tons of explosives still to be detonated.

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