A suggestion by a U.S. admiral that a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier might be based in Japan starting in 2008 is generating objections from some quarters in the country.
Japanese government officials have gone into damage control mode following U.S. Admiral Thomas Fargo's congressional testimony in Washington on Wednesday.
The head of the U.S. Pacific Command suggested that the 43-year-old aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk, which is based in Yokosuka, Japan, as flagship of the U.S. 7th Fleet, would need a state of the art replacement in 2008.
That comment was taken by the Japanese and most military observers to mean that the successor ship would be nuclear powered.
Although Japan has more than 50 nuclear plants generating electrical power, anti-nuclear sentiment dating back to World War II still runs high here, especially if atomic weapons or port calls by nuclear powered U.S. vessels are involved.
Following Admiral Fargo's testimony, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said the U.S. government has told Japan it has yet to make any decision on replacing the 84,000-ton Kitty Hawk.
At a news conference on Friday, Defense Agency Director General Shigeru Ishiba said the first step would be for the United States to notify Japan of its intentions through the Foreign Ministry.
Mr. Ishiba also says Japan must look at ensuring a meaningful deterrent for the country and the surrounding area, possibly hinting that the Japanese government will agree to the deployment.
That stance is generating loud objections from Yokosuka-area residents and anti-nuclear groups. Attorney and activist Masahiko Goto, head of the Citizens' Group Concerned About Yokosuka Becoming Home Port for U.S. Nuclear-powered Aircraft Carriers warns that an accident involving a nuclear-powered vessel in such a heavily populated area could result in tens of thousands of victims.
He says Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and other leading politicians should say a clear "no" to the United States.
The United States has never deployed a nuclear powered aircraft carrier in Japan, in deference to the feelings of the only population ever subjected to nuclear attack. The United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan in 1945, forcing Japan's surrender and bringing World War II to a close.
Meanwhile, North Korea has condemned American plans to deploy a destroyer equipped with the high-tech Aegis air defense system off the Korean coast.
A government news dispatch from Pyongyang quotes a Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying North Korea will boost its nuclear deterrent force to protect itself against war. Admiral Fargo, in his congressional testimony, said plans are being made to reposition U.S. forces in the Pacific, including basing an additional attack submarine at Guam and possibly moving an additional aircraft carrier battle group further west in the Pacific to augment the Kitty Hawk group.