The Kitty Hawk is pretty old; it’s past time to decommission her. The main reason she’s stayed at Yokosuka for so long, or so I understand, is because she’s diesel. The Japanese have historically refused to allow nuclear vessels to dock, due to fears of leakage. Indeed, this new agreement with the US includes some specific guidelines:
“Japan believes that the continued presence of the U.S. Navy … will contribute to Japan’s safety and … stability in the Far East,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda said Friday.
He said the agreement would not threaten the safety of Japanese residents, who have long been wary of a U.S. nuclear presence because of radiation leaks.
“The U.S. side has told us that it will maintain safety … and take strict (measures),” he said.
Hosoda added that to ensure safety, the carrier will stop its nuclear reactor while anchored at a base in Japan and conduct no repairs while in Japan.
This reticence towards allowing nuclear vessels is probably not indicative of a general resistance to all things nuclear, as I had previously assumed. The Japanese have had their own nuclear power plants since the 1960s. The fear of leakage likely stems from an awareness of the very real danger of nuclear radiation. Japan has had nuclear incidents in the past, most notably the Tokai-mura incident in 1999.
So, in other words, the fact that they’re letting us park a nuclear aircraft carrier at Yokosuka is pretty big news. It’s a huge demonstration of trust.
I imagine there will be quite a few unhappy citizens.
[Edit 4:35pm:] I told you!
Asahi.com: U.S. Navy plans nuclear-powered aircraft carrier at Yokosuka; city outraged
The U.S. Navy said it will station a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, starting in 2008, drawing immediate outrage and bewilderment in the city.
Yokosuka Mayor Ryoichi Kabaya said the city definitely opposes the plan, and criticized the way the decision was handled.
“The fact that the announcement was made without any prior word makes us wonder if the feelings of our city were taken into account,” Kabaya said. “Anxieties that residents of the city and Japanese as a whole have toward anything nuclear remain strong, which we have emphasized to both governments.” The Navy made the announcement Thursday, apparentlyspurred by the agreement reached by Japan and the United States the day earlier on realigning U.S. forces in Japan.
The mayor seems to be invoking Hiroshima and Nagasaki there, doesn’t he? At least, I’m sure that’s what people will think of when they read his statement, rather than the Tokai-mura incident, which, for example, I had never heard of until I read about it last night.