Residents evacuated a swath of the central Japanese city of Hamamatsu yesterday and bullet train runs halted for an hour as military explosives experts detonated a World War II-era artillery shell at a local beach.
Almost 70 years after the war, Ground Self-Defense Force bomb squads are still clearing unexploded ordnance throughout the nation, including in central Tokyo. They’ve dealt with some 6,000 tons of duds since the government began keeping records in 1958, according to defense ministry records.
Hamamatsu evacuated about 10,000 residents and halted rail and road traffic as the latest dud, an 860-kilogram (1,900-pound) shell probably fired by a U.S. Navy ship, was transported to the beach and exploded, according to a statement by city authorities.
“They have completed demolition of the shell,” Hidetaro Honma, an official at Hamamatsu city hall, said yesterday by phone. “We have not received any reports of accidents or trouble during the procedure.”
Construction work in Japan routinely uncovers unexploded bombs dropped during the war or munitions abandoned at former Japanese or U.S. arms caches. Japan’s ordnance-disposal teams handled 38 tons of explosives in the fiscal year ended March 2012, according to the Ministry of Defense.
About 160,000 tons of bombs were dropped on Japan’s main islands, mostly from B-29 aircraft, during the last five months of the war, according to U.S. Air Force records. Japan’s defense ministry has no estimate of the number of duds that may remain, said Colonel Takeshi Yoshizuka, who heads the GSDF’s ammunition section.
The 16-inch (41-centimeters) naval artillery shell found in Hamamatsu, home to Suzuki Motor Corp. and Yamaha Corp., was unearthed Oct. 11 by construction crews at a maintenance site of Central Japan Railway Co., which operates bullet trains that pass through the city on the route between Tokyo and Nagoya.
Sergeant First Class Makoto Ohashi and five members of his crew of disposal specialists, a job portrayed in the 2008 Hollywood movie “The Hurt Locker,” yesterday removed the shell, transported it to a 4.5-meter hole on the beach and detonated it.
Ohashi, who has disabled 12 bombs in the past decade, follows the same routine each time to settle his mind, including a precise placement of the tools in the order they’ll be needed. Last year, he and his team safely disabled a 225-kilogram shell discovered in the Motoakasaka neighborhood of Tokyo, near the grounds of the palace that’s home to Japan’s Crown Prince.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who returned the Liberal Democratic Party to power in December, is pledging to boost construction spending to stimulate the economy. That may lead to a jump in bomb discoveries, said Noboru Yamaguchi, a professor at the National Defense Academy in Yokosuka, south of Tokyo.
“We are increasingly going to dig for new construction, so there is a possibility we’re going to find more unexploded shells,” said Yamaguchi, a retired GSDF lieutenant general.
No Japanese disposal specialists have been injured during missions, said Lieutenant Colonel Masataka Takahashi, who leads Bomb Disposal Unit No. 102, which covers central and eastern Japan and includes Ohashi’s team.
“Our mission is to continue that legacy,” Takahashi said.
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