Japan to Bolster Laws After Drone Lands on Abe’s Office Roof

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Drone Found on Roof of Japan's PM Office
Japanese policemen cover with a blue sheet and inspect a small drone which was found on the roof of the Japanese prime minister's official residence in Tokyo on April 22. Source: Jiji Press/AFP/Getty Images

Japan will strengthen legislation governing unmanned aircraft after a small drone appeared to have fallen Wednesday onto the roof of the office of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was away at an international gathering in Jakarta.

“There is a risk that unmanned aircraft could be used for a terrorist attack at events such as the Olympics or the G-7 summit,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters in Tokyo. “We have to quickly prepare legislation and rules” on the use of drones, the government’s top spokesman said.

The drone measuring about 50 centimeters (20 inches) was equipped with a small camera, NHK reported. Cesium 134 and 137 were detected from a small container holding liquid, with radiation levels of about 1.0 microsievert/hour -- a very low amount, the public broadcaster said.

Police are investigating how the drone ended up on the roof of the building just a few minutes walk from parliament. Suga said he couldn’t comment on the potential dangers of the radiation as the probe is ongoing.

“This could potentially lead to more regulations on unmanned aircraft,” said Koichi Nakano, a professor of politics at Sophia University in Tokyo. “Much depends on whether the radioactive material found indicates this was an attack.”

The drone was identified by NHK as a Phantom, an aircraft made by Chinese company SZ DJI Technology Co. -- the same type that was flown onto the grounds of the White House in January. After the incident, U.S. President Barack Obama stressed the need for regulations on the use of small unmanned aircraft by civilians.

The drone was found by a worker at 10:27 a.m., shortly after a court rejected a request to block the restart of two nuclear reactors operated by Kyushu Electric Power Co. in southwestern Japan. This prompted speculation on Japanese social media it may have been a stunt by anti-nuclear activists.

No Injuries, Explosives

Police said there were no reports of injuries and officials at the premier’s office said no explosives were found, NHK said. The aviation law requires operators to inform the government if they plan to fly a drone at a height of 250 meters (820 feet) or more.

Televised aerial footage showed the drone fitted with propellers covered by cardboard, and officials covering it with a blue tarpaulin.

Japan’s cabinet approved in January a record defense budget that includes funding to purchase Northrop Grumman Global Hawk drones to boost defenses around its remote islands amid a territorial dispute with China. The Japan Self-Defense Forces observed an unmanned aircraft near the islets in the East China Sea in September.

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