Military Bases and Noise Pollution: Taking Measures Further Than Before

A military base is public in nature and serves the public good. So, how are these features being balanced with the peaceful lives of citizens who live in the vicinity of such bases? I’d like to urge the government to make a judicial ruling on this matter beyond what they have done until now.

Naval Air Facility Atsugi, in Kanagawa prefecture, is jointly used by the U.S. military and Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Forces. A Yokohama district court recently ruled that the Japanese government must pay damages to local residents for the noise and also ordered the suspension of Self-Defense Forces aircraft flights. Though lawsuits just like this one have been filed in the past, this is the first time such conditions have been awarded.

The Tokyo High Court has also shared its thoughts on noise pollution caused by military bases up until now. Although it recognizes the noise has previously caused injuries, it does not acknowledge any future damage it may do. It also rejects demands to prohibit military flights, which some have criticized as being too passive. Though the plaintiffs in this most recent ruling also wanted to prohibit U.S. military aircraft from being flown at night — which accounts for the majority of the noise — that part of the suit was rejected. As a result, the terms for damage prevention are limited. However, these terms still extend beyond the limits of previous rulings, which is of no small significance. Let’s hope the influence of this ruling will spread to every base-related lawsuit around the country.

Naval Air Facility Atsugi has been carrying out night-time takeoff and landing practices for U.S. planes stationed on aircraft carriers. There are plans to relocate these carrier-based planes to Air Station Iwakuni in Yamaguchi prefecture, a base jointly operated by the MSDF and U.S. Marine Corps. There are additional plans to move U.S. aircraft training practices to bases on Japan’s main island in order to reduce some of the burden placed on Okinawa by the military bases located there. Now, base-related noise pollution measures have the potential of becoming a more widespread issue than ever.

The three prior judicial rulings on the noise caused by Naval Air Facility Atsugi determined that the noise reached an unlawful level. Despite such rulings, however, the Japanese government still emphasized, even with this most recent lawsuit, that if the noise is “within permissible levels, the soundproofing assistance provided for residents’ homes is effective.” The Yokohama court ruling recognized that noise pollution from the base is directly linked to local residents’ personal injuries and that it’s a serious problem. They also identified the limits of national countermeasures.

The amount of compensation the court ordered as damages for the base’s noise pollution was the highest awarded so far, and we can only hope it serves as a warning for future violations. The government should be urgently striving to create noise prevention measures that extend beyond what we’ve had up until now.

To do that, the reality of personal injuries caused by the noise should once more be reviewed in great detail. It would also be good to meet with the U.S. military to seriously discuss the matter. Plus, even though serious noise pollution has been identified, that doesn’t mean the only ones who are affected are those living within the vicinity of the bases. As things stand now, it’s very possible that this issue could also undermine the bilateral understanding and cooperation that serves as the foundation of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty.

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