Radioactive drone lands on PM of Japan’s office

Officials with the drone ' covered in a blue tarpaulin ' on the prime minister's Tokyo office. Picture: AP
Officials with the drone ' covered in a blue tarpaulin ' on the prime minister's Tokyo office. Picture: AP
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Japanese authorities were investigating after a small drone reportedly containing traces of radiation was found yesterday on the roof of the prime minister’s office, sparking concerns about drones and their possible use for terrorist attacks.

No injuries or damage were reported from the incident, and prime minister Shinzo Abe was in Indonesia to attend an Asian-African conference. An official at the prime minister’s office declined to comment.

Police said it was not immediately known who was responsible for the drone. They were investigating the possibility it had crashed during a flight.

Chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga said a drone landing at the prime minister’s office was a wake-up call to problems caused by the unmanned aerial devices, including possible terrorist attacks when Japan hosts the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

“There is a possibility that drones might be used for terrorist attacks,” he told a regular news conference. “Taking into consideration the latest incident, we will review drone use and measures for possible terrorist attacks using drones. We’ll do our utmost to prevent terrorist attacks.”

He said that police would investigate, adding that the country may need to consider regulating the devices.

“This situation concerns the centre of Japanese government, the prime minister’s office, and we will take every necessary step, including a detailed investigation by police,” said Mr Suga, noting how Japan had begun studying the issue after a drone landed in the White House grounds in January. Mr Suga declined to comment further.

However, it was not clear when the drone landed. News reports said it was found by an official who was taking new employees on a tour of the prime minister’s office in central Tokyo.

What was initially considered only a mishap turned eerie when investigators detected small traces of radiation from the drone, presumably not levels harmful to humans, reports said. TV video showed unformed policemen without “hazmat” protective suits carrying a blue plastic box containing the drone for further examination.

Video from public television broadcaster NHK earlier showed dozens of police officers and officials around the drone, which was covered by a blue tarpaulin.

The drone was about 50 centimetres in diameter and had four propellers, carrying a small camera and a plastic bottle with unidentified content inside, according to Tokyo’s metropolitan police department. The drone was also decorated with a symbol that warns of radioactive material, according to NHK.

Small drones are becoming increasingly popular in Japan and are often used for performances, aerial filming and other purposes, but have been raising safety concerns.

In the United States in January, a wayward drone flown by an off-duty intelligence employee crashed on the White House grounds, raising questions over how commercial and consumer drones can be used safely in the US.

Japanese aviation laws have no restrictions for flying unmanned equipment at or below 250 metres above ground except for flight routes.

Japan is looking to fast track industry-friendly regulation to give its drone sector an edge over the US.

The government is considering the Fukushima nuclear plant, wrecked by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, as a test ground.