YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Kanagawa prefecture’s governor, formerly opposed to the Navy’s plan to bring a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to Yokosuka, changed course this week and now has dropped his opposition.

Gov. Shigefumi Matsuzawa’s turnabout is the second over the issue, following Yokosuka Mayor Ryoichi Kabaya’s change of mind in June. Both initially bucked the U.S. Navy’s announcement it would bring the USS George Washington, a nuclear-powered carrier, to Yokosuka in 2008 to replace the USS Kitty Hawk, the Navy’s oldest ship.

Both local officials cited “inevitability” and a newfound confidence in nuclear safety as reasons for their changes of heart.

“As for our prefecture, we have reached a decision that … a nuclear carrier this time is unavoidable,” Matsuzawa said at a news conference Wednesday.

Matsuzawa originally said he wanted the Navy’s single remaining conventionally powered carrier, the USS John F. Kennedy, to replace the Kitty Hawk. He said U.S. Ambassador Thomas Schieffer convinced him on Monday that this was impossible.

Matsuzawa said his safety questions, including about the ship’s accident-prevention system, disaster-control measures and its reactor’s structure, were answered by a U.S. Navy nuclear-safety “fact sheet” and by talks with Japanese government officials.

“I recognize the importance of a carrier in the Seventh Fleet, which is the key to Japan-U.S. security system,” he said, adding that it “plays an important deterrent when the security environment surrounding our country is unstable.”

Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Japan spokesman Cmdr. David Waterman expressed gratitude for the governor’s statement.

“Having one of the Navy’s most capable aircraft carriers here will enhance the Navy’s contribution to the defense of Japan,” he said. “We look forward to continuing our long, historical friendship between the Navy and Kanagawa prefecture.”

Japanese media reported that Matsuzawa’s changed stance has received praise from local and central government officials but has angered others. Local citizens groups are asking him to withdraw his statements, the Kanagawa Shimbun newspaper reported.

A petition against hosting a nuclear-powered carrier has garnered more than 500,000 signatures, according to Yokosuka attorney Masahiko Goto. More than 3,000 people demonstrated against the nuclear-powered carrier outside base gates last weekend.

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Hana Kusumoto is a reporter/translator who has been covering local authorities in Japan since 2002. She was born in Nagoya, Japan, and lived in Australia and Illinois growing up. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and previously worked for the Christian Science Monitor’s Tokyo bureau.

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