(Sep. 26, 2008) The Yomiuri Shimbun
Aircraft carrier to aid stability in Asia
米原子力空母 アジア安定に役立つ日本配備(9月26日付・読売社説)

The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington arrived Thursday at the U.S. naval base in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, a deployment expected to contribute not only to the defense of Japan but also to peace and stability in the entire Asia-Pacific region.

The carrier replaces the conventional aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk, which was deployed at the base in 1998, but is to be decommissioned due to its age. Its replacement marks the first U.S. nuclear-powered military vessel deployed to Japan.

Commissioned in 1992, the George Washington is the fourth youngest of the U.S. Navy's 11 aircraft carriers. The ship has 75 planes on board and about 6,000 crew members, including pilots.

It is capable of engaging in military operations longer than conventional carriers as its power is generated by nuclear reactors. Its acceleration when setting sail also is much faster than that of conventional carriers.


A powerful deterrent

The deployment in Japan of an aircraft carrier with better capabilities strengthens the deterrent potential of the U.S. military. The presence of the U.S. military in Japan is a cornerstone of the Japan-U.S. security alliance, and an aircraft carrier plays a pivotal role.

When a presidential election was held in Taiwan in March, the Kitty Hawk and another U.S. aircraft carrier conducted an exercise in waters east of Taiwan as a show of force. The drill was believed to be aimed at preventing China from taking any action similar to a missile drill it conducted in the Taiwan Strait in 1996 to demonstrate its power when Taiwan held its first presidential election.

Meanwhile, it is necessary to ensure safety regarding the nuclear-powered vessel.

In May, unauthorized smoking by a crew member aboard the George Washington sparked a fire, which resulted in the demotions of the captain and the executive officer. Due to necessary repair work, the carrier's deployment to Yokosuka was delayed by more than a month. Though the nuclear reactors were not damaged, it shows that an accident can be caused by simple misdeeds.


Easing public concerns

It was revealed in August that the nuclear-powered submarine USS Houston had leaked small amounts of radioactive substances from a water valve for more than two years, during which the submarine made Japanese port calls on 11 occasions.

The concentration of leaked radioactive substance was said to be about the same as what exists naturally in the ocean. The total amount of radiation leaked during the Japanese port calls is said to be far less than the amount released during one X-ray of the chest.

Even if this is so, the Japanese government must continue to urge the United States to take the utmost care in safety management of the aircraft carrier if it wants to dispel the anxieties of local residents and other people concerned. It also should proactively respond to requests to disclose information about accidents and other matters of public interest.

The Yokosuka city government approved in June 2006 the deployment of a nuclear-powered U.S. aircraft carrier and later signed a memorandum on disaster management with the U.S. military stationed in Japan. Last November, Japan and the United States conducted a joint disaster management drill.

A high-ranking U.S. Navy officer says that the navy's philosophy is to swiftly deal with any matter while it is still small to prevent it from developing into a major problem. To accomplish this, the two nations should make further efforts to establish a relationship of trust through joint drills and candid exchanges of opinions.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 26, 2008)
(2008年9月26日01時45分 読売新聞)

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