U.S. Welcomes Japanese Mayor's Acceptance of Nuclear-Powered Ship

By Cassie Duong
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington - The United States welcomes a June 14 announcement by Ryoichi Kabaya, mayor of Yokosuka, Japan, that he has accepted the planned deployment to Japan of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, according to U.S. Ambassador to Japan J. Thomas Schieffer.

Kabaya previously had expressed concerns about the safety of nuclear-powered vessels.  According to news reports, one month after U.S. officials announced in October 2005 plans to replace the conventionally powered USS Kitty Hawk with the nuclear-powered USS George Washington in 2008, Kabaya presented a petition to Schieffer opposing the plan.

During that meeting, Schieffer explained that the U.S. Navy had "tried very hard to accommodate the request of [Mayor Kabaya and his predecessor] to replace Kitty Hawk with another conventional carrier, but after detailed study, concluded that neither the USS John F. Kennedy or USS Kitty Hawk were viable options to fulfill the critical and high-tempo mission of the Forward Deployed Naval Forces" beyond 2008.

Schieffer added that the U.S. chief of Naval operations had told him the Navy would be "moving to an entirely nuclear-powered carrier fleet," according to a November 10, 2005, press release from the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo.

"Now that there is no possibility of a conventional carrier being deployed, we need to face reality and consider as inevitable the deployment of a nuclear-powered carrier," Kabaya told Mainichi June 14.

In a statement released by the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo the same day, Schieffer said, "We take our commitment to defend Japan and maintain peace and security in the region very seriously. Ensuring that our most capable Naval forces are forward-deployed is part of that commitment."

The ambassador said the United States is "committed to maintaining the impeccable safety record of America's nuclear-powered carriers."

According to a U.S. Embassy fact sheet on U.S. nuclear-powered warships (NPWs), such vessels have operated safely for more than 50 years without experiencing any reactor accident or any release of radioactivity that hurt human health or had an adverse effect on marine life.  NPWs make up about 40 percent of major U.S. naval combatants and visit more than 150 ports in more than 50 countries, including three in Japan.

"U.S. Navy reactors are so effectively shielded and radioactivity is so controlled that a typical NPW fleet crew member receives significantly less radiation exposure than a person would receive from background radiation at home in the U.S. in the same period," the fact sheet notes. "This is due to the comprehensive shielding built into the ships and the absence of radiation from the earth itself, most notably from radon, while the NPW is deployed."

U.S. and Japanese officials met June 9 to discuss the plan to replace the USS Kitty Hawk with the USS George Washington.  The USS Kitty Hawk, commissioned in 1961, is the Navy's oldest aircraft carrier in full active service.  (See related article.)

Following the June 9 meeting, Deputy Chief of Mission Joseph R. Donovan Jr. of the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo said the United States "has considered very seriously the requests of Yokosuka Mayor Kabaya regarding drill scenarios and a disaster-response mutual aid agreement between the City and the U.S. Navy."

The U.S. government "is willing to work with the Government of Japan to develop credible drill scenarios that test the appropriate level of emergency preparedness," he said.

Donovan said the United States also is interested in enhancing informal talks between U.S. and Japanese naval forces and "relevant parties of Yokosuka City."

Schieffer said the U.S. government "will continue to listen and seriously consider the views of local residents and political leaders regarding this deployment."

"We greatly value the friendship and hospitality of Yokosuka City and the other communities that host our forces," he said.

For more information on U.S. policies, see East Asia and the Pacific.

The text of Schieffer's June 14 statement, a press release on the June 9 bilateral talks, a press release on the November 10, 2005, meeting and a fact sheet on the safety of nuclear-powered warships are available on the U.S. Embassy Tokyo Web site.