words by Carol King
The public prosecutor’s office in Caltagirone, Sicily has issued an order blocking the construction of the Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) ground station on the island.
MUOS is an ultra-high frequency narrow-band satellite communication network. It consists of four satellites and four ground stations worldwide, of which the Sicilian ground station under construction 3 miles outside of the small town of Niscemi is one. Operated by the United States Department of Defense, it is intended to integrate air and naval forces in the region, replacing the current satellite system.
However, the proposed site is in Ulmo, a district within the Sughereta Nature Reserve in Niscemi. Sughereta has been awarded Sito di Importanza Comunitaria (Site of Community Importance) status under the European Commission Habitats Directive, meaning it is an important area in terms of conserving a natural habitat and species. The reserve is notable for its cork-oak wood as well as various species of mammals and birds.
The public prosecutor’s office identified that the MUOS construction violates environmental legislation governing the nature reserve and the judicial authorities are now considering the violations. The latest development marks the end of the first phase of preliminary inquiries into the construction began in July 2011. Measures to halt construction are being handled by the police and the commanding officer at the US Naval Air Station Sigonella nearby.
The intended installation has lead to protests from numerous local residents and representatives. They are concerned because of its environmental impact and the possible increase in the radiation level near an inhabited area caused by the electromagnetic waves emanating from it, which they fear – and as claimed by some academics – may cause diseases such as cancer and leukaemia. Dissatisfaction with the proposed ground station has spread, leading to the rise of the ‘NO MUOS’ movement, which has 25 committees across the island.
On the day the public prosecutor’s office made its announcement regarding halting MUOS, some 5,000 protesters participated in a march in Niscemi. The protesters told the ‘Corriere del Mezzogiorno’ newspaper that the stay of works is “a half victory”. They are asking the Italian state and the Sicilian regional government to revoke all permissions previously granted in respect to MUOS.