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Remarks made by the U.S. Pacific commander last week jolted the Yokosuka community, homeport of USS Kitty Hawk.

During a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee, Adm. Thomas Fargo said the Kitty Hawk would have to be replaced by one of the Navy’s most capable carriers. Many news sources in Japan interpreted that as meaning a nuclear-powered carrier.

Alarmed by those reports, an anti-nuclear citizens’ group announced Monday they’re collecting signatures to protest a nuclear-powered vessel.

“The plan is just as dangerous as building a nuclear power plant, or maybe more threatening,” said Masahiko Goto, a lawyer, who leads the Citizen’s Group to Oppose a Nuclear-Powered Aircraft Carrier to be Based at Yokosuka.

He said that if the base houses a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, it would be almost certain that a repair shop for a nuclear reactor would be built in the base’s neighborhood. He said that repair shop represents a high risk for a radiation accident.

“Yokosuka is very close to Tokyo,” he said. “Should a nuclear accident occur, there is a possibility that about 30 million people would be exposed to radiation.”

This is the third time the group has collected signatures against a nuclear-powered vessel since its 1998 formation, said Goto.

“We have collected about 70,000 signatures of people who opposed a nuclear vessel in May 2001 and an additional 30,000 in April 2003,” he said. The signatures were submitted to the mayor with a petition, he said.

The day after Fargo’s comments, Yokohama Mayor Hideo Sawada released a statement indicating no other carrier had been named.

“A reply from Ministry of Foreign Affairs to our query said ... [the] U.S. government has made no decision about a successor to the USS Kitty Hawk,” according to a written statement.

He also said the government ensured him any decision about future U.S. ships would be made under close cooperation between the two countries.

“I believe that the government would inform us if the U.S. government makes any proposal on this issue,” he said.

Kanagawa Gov. Shigefumi Matsuzawa received a similar reply from Tokyo.

Goto said this is the right time for citizens to voice their protest.

“Our goal is to collect 100,000 signatures again to show Yokosuka citizens’ determination not to accept a nuclear vessel,” he said.

Military officials won’t speak about the possibility of a nuclear-powered carrier to replace the Kitty Hawk.

Currently, Guam and Hawaii are lobbying the U.S. Navy for a nuclear-powered ship — either as a Kitty Hawk replacement or as a second Pacific-based carrier.

In October, U.S. Pacific Fleet officials confirmed a $1.8 million environmental study on basing a carrier strike group in Hawaii. But officials stressed that no decision had been reached.

Guam officials have indicated they hoped to lure a carrier group on the strength of strategic location. The island is 3,800 miles west of Hawaii, which would significantly shrink a warship’s response time in the Western Pacific.

Guam officials have estimated the presence of a carrier group would create more than 4,000 new jobs and pump $375 million annually into the local economy. A 1998 study by the Hawaii Chamber of Commerce estimated a carrier based in Honolulu would generate 4,200 jobs and have a $375 million annual economic impact, according to The Associated Press.

Vince Little contributed to this report.

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