Mon, Nov 21, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Retiree heads opposition to US nuclear carrier

AFP , YOKOSUKA, JAPAN

Manabu Hattori, 79, stands almost every night on the street with a petition hanging from his shoulders. He has suffered two strokes but he wants still more signatures.

The soft-spoken retiree is determined that his hometown, Yokosuka, does not become the first city outside the US to host a nuclear-powered US aircraft carrier.

The plan is fuelling strong local opposition here, even though it is backed by the local member of parliament, who happens to be Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

"The US Navy doesn't let Japan screen the safety of nuclear-powered ships, let alone disclose anything related to safety concerns we have," said Hattori, a physicist specializing in nuclear reactors and the former director of Rikkyo University's Institute of Atomic Energy.

"Nothing is more dangerous than leaving it up to people who blindly believe accidents will never happen," he said.

Japan, a close US ally, announced last month it had agreed to host a Nimitz-class US nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in this naval port from 2008, prompting protests in the only nation to have suffered nuclear attack.

The US Navy said that East Asia's unpredictable security environment meant the most capable ships had to be deployed.

Yokosuka Mayor Ryoichi Kabaya deplored that the central government, despite being headed by a local resident, had overruled the city's demands that the currently deployed carrier, USS Kitty Hawk, be replaced with another conventionally powered ship when it is to be decommissioned in 2008.

Hattori, who asks people to sign the board on his chest nearly every night, and his civil group have gathered more than 450,000 petition signatures from around Japan, even though Yokosuka's population is 430,000.

Masahiko Goto, a lawyer representing the civil group, said the movement is not necessarily against the US Navy presence itself.

"It's not like the naval base inflicts a noise problem, and local residents are used to living with it," he said. "We're just asking for no nuclear-powered ship to base here."

As a city of navy port since 19th century, Yokosuka has maintained a relatively friendly relationship with the US Navy after it replaced the Japanese military following World War II.

It has hosted a US aircraft carrier -- USS Midway, Independence and then Kitty Hawk -- since 1973, the only non-US city to do so.

James Kelly, the commander of the US Navy in Japan, tried to assure the public that the nuclear warship would help "protect the regional security interests of the US and its allies in the region."

"I commit myself to you -- the citizens of Japan -- a 100-percent effort to discuss and address your safety concerns," he wrote in the liberal Asahi Shimbun daily's English edition on Nov. 18.

Although spurring frequent protests, the US Navy has sent nuclear-powered warships temporarily into Japanese ports, including Yokosuka, more than 1,200 times since 1964.

US Navy spokesman John Wallach said in an e-mail interview that the past 40 years "confirms US nuclear-powered warships operations have had no adverse effect."

But Mayumi Kamijo, a 59-year-old housewife, said after signing a petition against the warship, "I'm not politically outspoken and Yokosuka is home of Prime Minister Koizumi, but this is a different story."

"Nothing guarantees there won't be an accident, ever," she said.

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