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World War II bomb clearance may need 150 years
(China Daily)
Updated: 2005-05-04 05:54

Hundreds of people in western Japan were evacuated yesterday as Japanese troops safely defused an unexploded one-ton bomb believed to have been dropped during US air raids in World War II, an official said.

The bomb was discovered about 2.5 metres underground by construction workers in Osaka earlier last month, when workers were digging to build an apartment block, said Captain Tsutomu Shimoda from the Ground Self-Defence Forces' regional office.

Evacuation orders were issued to local residents and about 4,000 businesses, mostly small shops and restaurants, within a 300-metre radius of the site yesterday, Shimoda said.

The bomb was safely defused after nearly 90 minutes of work, and the Defence Agency plans to dispose of it at sea, Shimoda said. It was the 97th one-ton bomb discovered and defused in Osaka since the end of World War II in 1945, he said.

Workers in Japan frequently dig up unexploded bombs from US attacks or arms hidden by the Japanese during the closing days of World War II.

Germany destroying unexploded bombs

Sixty years after the end of World War II, Germany is still nowhere near completing the job of destroying thousands of tons of unexploded bombs, shells, mines and grenades.

In the eastern state of Brandenburg, encircling Berlin, a 4,000 kilometre chunk of land is contaminated with leftover bombs, shells and other potentially dangerous and ageing munitions.

Weapons experts estimate that at the present slow rate of progress it could take up to 150 years before such clearance work ends. Currently, the task of eliminating contaminated areas is threatened by government spending cuts.

"The image of a ticking time-bomb is appropriate when describing the dangers posed by these decaying war relics," says Guenter Fricke, an arms disposal expert employed by the Dresden Sprengschule (bomb disposal establishment).

He teaches students the intricacies of more than 200 assorted war- time bombs, equipped with up to 120 different fuses, all of which were deployed by the Allied forces.

He warns his pupils to take particular care with munitions found on old German-former Soviet battleground sites and "exercise" areas. "With Russian mines and bombs every part is individual," he says.

In the western half of the country, officials had 40 years to systematically search suspect territory.

"In the east, it was another story," says Hans-Juergen Weise, a munitions disposal service expert from Brandenburg. This is borne out by official statistics relating to munition finds.

Whereas in the southern state of Bavaria some 13 tons of war-time bombs and other ammunition was found, in the northeastern state of Mecklenburg-Pommerania last year the figure was 230 tons. In western Germany, the central state of Hesse was the only state that could count on more than 100 tons of military scrap being salvaged on a yearly basis.

Across the whole of the country, a total of more than 1,500 tons of military scrap has on average been salvaged annually, of which a third between 400-500 tons has been discovered in Brandenburg state, which today still counts as one of the worst areas for military leftovers.

Despite the need for a more concerted effort when combating the lethal arsenal of ageing bombs and grenades, there has been a cutback in official funding.

Joerg Schoenbohm, the Brandenburg state interior minister, who happens to be a former army officer, is bitterly critical of Finance Minister Hans Eichel, saying the government has a duty to bear the full costs of World War II salvage work.

"The war consequences were a joint historical legacy, and it was a duty of the government to bear the cost of salvaging ageing war munitions, not individual federal states," he says.

In Bremen, a government official speaks of the danger posed by decaying munitions. "Increasingly we have to detonate bombs at the site where they are found. It's too dangerous to transport them to safe areas," he says.

For more than 50 years, sizable amounts of munitions have been regularly detonated every Friday at the Kummersdof-Gut site in Brandenburg, where explosives expert Weise has been busy defusing and blowing up hazardous bomb finds for 35 years.

"When I was first employed the view was that in ten years time I would be seeking another job as there would be no further work for me to do."

"Today, after extensive evaluation of aerial bombing materials, and assessments of the vast quantity of bombs, shells and grenades deployed in the storming of the German capital in 1945, it is clear that for generations to come there will remain a huge amount of work to be done."

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