Work on US satellite station in Sicily halted for health study
Satellite dishes are part of a Mobile User Objective System located at Naval Computer and Telecommunications Area Master Station Pacific, Wahiawa, Hawaii. A similar system to be built in Sicily has been put on hold.
Italy is blocking completion of a controversial U.S. military satellite station in Sicily pending the results of a health and environmental study.
The satellite system, approved by the Italian Defense Ministry in 2006 for construction near the U.S. naval base at Sigonella, has been for months the catalyst for protests by Italians amid concerns about exposure to radiation.
On Monday, Italian officials signed an order staying further progress at the satellite station, which is going up in the Sicilian town of Niscemi, and ordered an impact study of the antenna system. An agency to conduct the study has yet to be selected, according to a Defense Ministry official.
Protesters have blocked access to the base, reportedly cut holes in security fences and clashed with police.
Italy’s prime minister wrote in a statement that final satellite antennae installation would be blocked until completion of the independent study. Prime Minister Mario Monti’s statement said the government’s action was in response to “concerns of local people about the impact on the environment and human health as a result of ongoing work to modernize and expand the facilities.”
The satellite station, located about 45 minutes from the Navy base at Sigonella, will host part of the global communications network called Mobile User Objective System, or MUOS. The network eventually will comprise five satellites that will be able to communicate with antenna systems placed on bases around the world. In addition to the site in Italy, there are sites in the U.S. and Australia.
The first satellite was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla., in February 2012. MUOS-2 is expected to be launched in July. The five-satellite global constellation is expected to be fully operational in 2015, extending UHF narrowband communications to all of the U.S. armed forces past 2025, according to Steven A. Davis, spokesman for the Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command in California.
“Born from the need for stable, 24/7 ship-to-shore communication that could be successful regardless of environmental and geographical conditions, the Navy is assigned the responsibility to provide this crucial capability known today as narrowband satellite communication,” Davis said.
Other stateside locations include Hawaii and Virginia.
Two health studies were conducted by technicians at the sites in Wahiawa, Hawaii, and Chesapeake, Va. They measured levels of the electromagnetic radiation and results showed levels were below applicable permissible exposure limits, or PELs, established by U.S. standards, Davis said. Summaries of the studies have been translated into Italian and posted on the U.S. Consulate’s website.
The Sicily system has been erected in stages. Construction of MUOS buildings is complete; installation of electronic equipment is about 90 percent complete and assembly of the three large antennas about 30 percent complete, Davis said.
“Since December 2005, the U.S. Navy has coordinated closely with the Italian government to ensure the MUOS [site] follows all health and safety regulations,” Davis said, adding the site meets U.S. and Italian health and safety regulations.
The MUOS antenna will not interfere with any of the 2,409 local or remote communications systems within a 75-kilometer (nearly 50-mile) radius, he said.