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YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Official word that the USS George Washington aircraft carrier will replace the USS Kitty Hawk has received mixed reactions from local leaders.

The U.S. Navy announced Friday the George Washington will take the Kitty Hawk’s place at Yokosuka Naval Base in 2008. This reinforced the joint American-Japanese Oct. 28 statement that a nuclear-powered carrier would replace Kitty Hawk — the oldest of the two remaining conventionally-powered carriers in the U.S. Navy.

“It [the George Washington] is a quantum improvement in the Seventh Fleet in terms of capabilities,” said Commander, Naval Forces Japan spokesperson John Wallach. “It’s the Navy’s fourth youngest carrier. It’s a very new ship, highly capable. It’s a great improvement over any conventional carrier.”

Infrastructurally, there won’t be much change after the new carrier is forward-deployed to Yokosuka, as the George Washington requires about the same crew size and will bring the same number of family members on base.

The major difference is in strategy, Wallach said.

“Nimitz-class carriers are just far more capable than conventional carriers,” Wallach said. “They offer better war fighting capabilities because they can hold twice as much aviation fuel, have a larger flight deck and more weapons storage and can last twice as long at a location during contingency operations.”

Anti-nuclear-powered aircraft carrier activism intensified after the Oct. 28 announcement. A Nov. 27 demonstration outside of Yokosuka Naval Base brought 2,000 people in front of the base gates in protest of the move. The naming of the carrier also prompted oppositional responses from a few local politicians over the weekend.

“I recognize that possibility of deploying a conventionally-powered carrier is not gone completely,” Kanagawa prefecture Governor Shigefumi Matsuzawa said in a statement released Saturday. “The prefecture will continue to press both the U.S. and Japanese governments to make their utmost efforts to deploy a conventionally-powered carrier by respecting the local communities’ wishes and to fundamentally solve carrier-based aircraft noise problems without further delay,” he stated.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials notified the Kanagawa Prefectural Office Saturday morning that the U.S. Department of Defense announced the George Washington will arrive at Yokosuka in 2008 to replace Kitty Hawk after it retires, the statement said.

Yokosuka Mayor Ryoichi Kabaya, who plans to visit stateside in mid-December to express his opposition to a deployment of a nuclear carrier, said the city was also notified Saturday morning and said, “there is nothing particular since a ship was named but it is true that our sense of crisis increased,” according to an article posted on the Mainichi Shimbun Web site.

The George Washington is currently based in Norfolk, Va., The carrier was commissioned July 4, 1992 and has previously deployed to the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf.

Juliana Gittler contributed to this report.

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