29 March 2013
(Adds U.S. Department of Defense statement)
PALERMO, Italy, March 29 (Reuters) - The Sicilian regional government in Italy has revoked permission for the United States to build a military satellite station on the island, its governor said on Friday, after protests by residents who said it could pose a health risk.
The planned ground station is part of the Mobile User Objective System (MUOS), an ultra high-frequency satellite network aimed at significantly boosting communications capacity for the U.S. military and its allies.
Concerns about the effect the station's electromagnetic waves could have on the health of residents around the town of Niscemi, including fears that the waves could cause cancer, have provoked protests on the island.
A U.S. military official said the United States hoped to allay any health concerns and would try to reach an agreement with the Italian government to get permission to build the facility.
The regional government of the semi-autonomous island last month delayed construction and called for an independent study into its health and environmental impact.
The Italian government said this month the demonstrations risked compromising operations at Sigonella, a U.S. naval base in Sicily.
"Through the relevant department, permission for the construction of MUOS has been definitively withdrawn," Sicilian Governor Rosario Crocetta told reporters in the island's capital of Palermo on Friday.
He did not say whether the decision to revoke permission for the site was related to the study or to health concerns.
Crocetta's remarks came a day before a planned protest expected to draw several thousand in Niscemi, which local groups of the governor's own Democratic Party were due to attend.
Lieutenant Colonel Monica Matoush, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Defense Department, said the U.S. military was confident that studies of the satellite system would show it was safe.
"We are committed to working with Italian health authorities to address health concerns raised by the local population," she said in emailed comments to Reuters.
The satellite network also has stations in the United States and Australia.
In a visit to Italy in January, then-U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said he understood the concerns of residents but that U.S. studies had concluded there would be no health risk.
(Reporting by Vladimiro Pantaleone and Naomi O'Leary; Editing by Pravin