The mayor of the city of Yokosuka and the governor of Kanagawa Prefecture have expressed willingness to accept the deployment of a U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier at U.S. Yokosuka Naval Base, stirring optimism among central government officials that a controversial issue is about to be solved.

But within the communities near Yokosuka, opposition to the home-porting proposal persists. Local officials fear that carrier-based warplanes could cause serious noise and safety problems and that the plan could lead to the expansion of U.S. military presence. A Yokosuka citizens’ group campaigning against the proposal has moved to demand a referendum on the issue or a recall of the mayor. The situation is so fluid that the outcome of the home-porting proposal issue cannot be predicted.

Ryoichi Kabaya, elected Yokosuka mayor last year after pledging to refuse the home-porting proposal, began to change his stance early this year. In June, he expressed readiness to accept the plan after holding two public hearings apparently for the sake of formality. In September, his municipal government published a newsletter to persuade citizens to accept deployment.

The mayor contended that since the possibility of deploying a conventionally powered carrier had been ruled out, the city had no choice but to accept the home-porting of a nuclear-powered carrier. He pledged to ask the Japanese and U.S. governments to take measures that would alleviate citizens’ safety concerns.

In a fact sheet delivered to Tokyo in April, Kabaya noted that Washington provided detailed information about the structure and the safety system of the nuclear-powered carrier and reconfirmed the U.S. commitment to safety.

However, a Yokosuka citizens’ group criticized the U.S. Navy’s claim that there were no safety problems with the nuclear-powered carrier. The group said the navy failed to provide essential information about the ship. According to the group, more than 70 percent of respondents in street polls have expressed opposition to the deployment, yet the mayor made a “political decision” to accept the deployment.

Both the national government and the Yokosuka municipal government seem to have blindly accepted the U.S. government’s position. The mayor apparently changed his stand without investigating the issue. Therefore, he cannot escape suspicion that his election pledge was a mere campaign tactic.

In late September, an apparent radiation leakage was reported from the U.S. nuclear-powered submarine Honolulu in waters near Yokosuka, but the government failed to get to the bottom of what happened. In a preliminary report, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology said it found minuscule amounts of radioactive cobalt 58 and 60 in the submarine’s wake after it left Yokosuka. After rechecking the waters later, the ministry failed to determine the cause of the radioactivity leakage. It gave up on making further checks, saying the radioactivity was unlikely to have come from troubles with the submarine’s nuclear reactor, including its cooling system. The ministry did not ask the U.S. Navy to submit the submarine’s log and reactor data, as the citizens’ group had demanded.

This reaction strikes a sharp contrast to practices in the nation’s power industry, which carries out a thorough probe if minute amounts of radioactivity are detected inside, or in the vicinity of, a commercial power reactor.

There is another problem: U.S. forces in Japan give notice to local authorities 24 hours in advance of nuclear-powered submarine visits. But at the request of the U.S. forces, local governments have not publicized the notices since the 9/11 attacks. Yokosuka, Kure (Hiroshima Prefecture) and two other municipalities have asked U.S. forces through the Foreign Ministry to withdraw the request, but in vain. To prevent unexpected accidents, the notice should be made public.

Authorities in the cities of Yamato and Ayase, which host the U.S. Atsugi Naval Air Station, continue to oppose the home-porting of any type of U.S. aircraft carrier in Yokosuka, even though the city of Yokosuka accepted deployment of a conventionally powered aircraft carrier. The two cities are troubled by noise and safety problems caused by training flights of carrier-based aircraft. The two cities refuse to even consider deployment of a nuclear-powered carrier.

Most local governments in the Shonan coastal area of Kanagawa Prefecture could be called peace-minded. In 1958, Kamakura declared itself a city of peace and is seeking the registration as a world heritage site because of its rich cultural assets. In 1992, the town of Hayama, which hosts an Imperial villa, declared itself a nuclear-free city of peace.

In a policy speech earlier this year, Mayor Kazuyoshi Nagashima of the city of Zushi said he was gravely concerned about the deployment of a nuclear-powered carrier at Yokosuka for fear it might not only cause a major accident but also lead to a U.S. demand for more military housing in the city to accommodate the carrier’s personnel and dependents.

For the sake of Japan-U.S. friendship, the deployment of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier at Yokosuka should not be imposed on local communities.

The Yokosuka citizens’ group opposing the deployment of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier will start a signature collection campaign next month calling for a city ordinance to authorize a referendum on the issue. Masahiko Goto, leader of the group, told me that both supporters and opponents of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty oppose the deployment of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier at Yokosuka. If that’s true, a “no” vote against the deployment in the referendum is possible.

Some Japanese and U.S. government officials are reportedly fed up with the “nuclear allergies” of citizens. But this antipathy stems from the awakening caused by the pacifist Constitution — a gift to the Japanese people from U.S. authorities after the end of World War II. The Japanese government should quietly watch the development of the referendum movement and respect the results if one is held.

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