USS Kitty Hawk plows through the waters of the Pacific Ocean in 2004.

USS Kitty Hawk plows through the waters of the Pacific Ocean in 2004. (U.S. Navy)

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — No one around Yokosuka Naval Base clutched their chests in surprise at Friday’s news that the USS Kitty Hawk was to be replaced in 2008.

People have known that the 44-year old, conventionally-powered aircraft carrier — the Navy’s oldest active-duty ship — is entering its twilight years.

But that some Japanese object to the Kitty Hawk’s replacement running on nuclear power caused eyebrows to knit.

The announcement likely will translate into more protests at the gate, said Susan Murphy, a former surface warfare officer and Navy wife.

“I’ve never seen as many protests as I have in Japan,” she said. “I’m not worried about nuclear power — we have that down to a science — I’m more concerned about the Japanese reaction.”

Some Japanese people may not understand that the Navy has operated several nuclear ships for years, said Jen Negishi, a Navy Exchange store clerk.

Reports that a nuclear-powered carrier is to be based in Japan aren’t “really going to impact the base but I think we’ll see more protests,” Negishi said. “People worry about terrorist attacks even though that isn’t likely in Japan. The Japanese people won’t like it but everyone is going nuclear.”

Others cited the economic benefits of a nuclear carrier. It’s less expensive to operate than the Kitty Hawk, which the Navy has said can use 1,000 barrels of fuel a day when under way. But others speculated that the new ship and new technology may leave the base’s Ship Repair Facility and local work force feeling some economic repercussions.

Still, said Seaman Recruit Jose Lopez, while bringing a nuclear-powered carrier to Japan may spark more confrontations in the short term, it will bolster security in the long term.

“It will make us stronger on this side of the world to have a better carrier,” he said.

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