Japan Defense Ministry set to begin base construction on southwestern island

Japan's Defense Ministry plans on Thursday to begin construction of a Self-Defense Force base on Mageshima, an island in Kagoshima Prefecture.

The ministry is scheduled to release an environmental assessment report on Thursday afternoon before starting construction. Planned use for the facility includes training missions by U.S. carrier-based fighter jets.

The ministry also plans to build a runway, hangars and pier facilities for Self-Defense Force vessels. The construction is expected to take about four years, but the ministry hopes to complete the runway and related facilities in about 24 months.

Around 40 people, including ministry officials and construction workers, arrived on Mageshima Thursday morning.

Residents of nearby Tanegashima Island's Nishinoomote City, which administers Mageshima, are divided over the construction plan.

Some hope that government grants given in exchange for accommodating the base will help revitalize the local economy, but others are worried about fighter jet noise and safety.

Ministry official Harada Michiaki told Nishinoomote Mayor Yaita Shunsuke on Wednesday that the base needs to be made operable as soon as possible amid a harsh security environment.

Yaita has not clarified his stance on the SDF plan.

About 30 residents opposed to the base construction held a rally in Kagoshima City on Wednesday.

They then went to the prefectural government office and handed over a letter asking Governor Shiota Koichi to retract a statement he made condoning the base construction.

The head of the group, Yamauchi Mitsunori, expressed anger at the central government's decision to go ahead with the plan in disregard of local opinion.