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Saturday, Oct. 29, 2005

Nuclear carrier to replace Kitty Hawk


Staff writer

The United States announced Friday it will replace the USS Kitty Hawk, a conventionally powered aircraft carrier, with one of its nine Nimitz-class nuclear-powered carriers in 2008.

News photo
The USS Kitty Hawk, one of the U.S. Navy's two conventionally powered aircraft carrin Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, in August. It is scheduled to be decommissioned in 2008.

The decision provoked strong protest from local governments and antinuclear groups.

U.S. Ambassador to Japan Thomas Schieffer informed Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura of the decision Thursday evening.

The Kitty Hawk is based in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, but is scheduled to be decommissioned in 2008. The only other conventionally powered U.S. aircraft carrier is the USS John F. Kennedy, which is due to be decommissioned.

News photo
Thomas Schieffer

The announcement was made two days after Tokyo and Washington agreed on a relocation site for U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in Okinawa Prefecture -- the most critical issue in the bilateral negotiations on the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan.

Observers point out that the U.S. apparently wanted to make the decision before Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's term ends next September. Yokosuka is Koizumi's home district.

The U.S. Navy emphasized that Nimitz-class aircraft carriers are superior to the Kitty Hawk in speed, control and communications.

At a news conference the same day, Defense Agency chief Yoshinori Ono said it is "meaningful" for Japan to host a highly efficient carrier considering the security situation in Japan and the region.

"We would appreciate it if the public will accept the nuclear-powered carrier in the same context as a nuclear power plant," he said.

In a separate news conference, Ambassador Schieffer stressed that the nuclear-powered carrier will significantly contribute to the peace and stability of Japan, the United States and the entire region.

Schieffer also said the U.S. Navy is moving toward an all-nuclear-powered carrier force, which would rule out the deployment of a conventionally powered carrier.

Since Japan is the only country to have suffered a nuclear attack, the local governments of Kanagawa Prefecture and Yokosuka city have resisted the idea of hosting nuclear-powered warships.

Schieffer said the U.S. considered this factor.

"In making our decision, we took into account the sensitivity of the people of Japan to a nuclear-powered warship," he said.

The ambassador noted that there has not been an incident involving the release of radioactive material in warships in the past 40 years.

The Navy said U.S. nuclear-powered warships have visited Japanese ports more than 1,200 times since 1964.

But local government leaders and antinuclear groups are not convinced.

"I'm sorry and disappointed. I'm feeling betrayed," Yokosuka Mayor Ryoichi Kabaya said.

Kabaya had opposed the rumored deployment of a nuclear-powered carrier to the city's port due to local local antinuclear sentiment.

Kanagawa Gov. Shigefumi Matsuzawa, who is currently in Washington, told reporters he will try to convince the U.S. and Japanese governments to reconsider and deploy a conventionally powered carrier instead.

"We have urged the U.S. not to deploy a nuclear-powered carrier to Yokosuka because there are still problems with its safety inspection process," Matsuzawa said.

Shoji Shimizu, a leader of a local Yokosuka group opposing the deployment of a nuclear-powered carrier, said, "The Japanese and U.S. governments had said they would respect local opinion. But this sudden agreement has come out."

Shimizu's group in March submitted to the mayor a petition signed by about 300,000 people opposing the deployment of a nuclear carrier.

Toshihiro Inoue, a senior official of the major antinuclear group, the Japan Congress Against A- and H-Bombs (Gensuikin), said if the nuclear-powered carrier collides with other vessels, a possible scenario in Tokyo Bay where a great number of ships come and go, it could cause a great disaster.



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