YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Yokosuka’s mayor returned from his visit to San Diego saying it “deepened” his understanding of naval nuclear safety but that the U.S. Navy should accept an accident could happen and plan for it.

A former opponent of the Navy’s plan to station a nuclear-powered warship here, Mayor Ryoichi Kabaya returned to Yokosuka Aug. 18 after a four-day visit to U.S. Navy bases and talks with mayoral peers in San Diego and Coronado, Calif.

Kabaya also toured the USS Nimitz, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier similar to the USS George Washington, which is slated to arrive at Yokosuka in 2008.

Kabaya was struck by the differences between American and Japanese thinking on the issue, Takehito Akimoto, Yokosuka city’s military base division chief, said Thursday.

“Impressions of what he, as the leader of the city, saw there with his own eyes are rubbed in his mind,” Akimoto said. “He wants to think about measures with Japanese sensibility based on what he felt there.”

In the U.S., wealthy residences and yachts shared space with nuclear-powered warships, and the Navy monitors its own radiation. In Japan, nuclear power plants are isolated from the public and the city and national governments monitor radiation levels.

The mayor has said safety concerns about hosting a nuclear warship in a highly populated area were the root of his opposition to the Navy’s plans for the George Washington but he later switched his stance. The trip reinforced his change of heart, Akimoto said.

“He understood why it has been said to be safe,” Akimoto said.

However, Masashi Suzuki, Yokosuka city military base division assistant manager, said the mayor still will press the Navy on its refusal to acknowledge the possibility of a nuclear accident when doing disaster planning and disaster drills with the city.

“I want to break that barrier,” Kabaya said at an Aug. 19 news conference.

City and national governments have begun discussing disaster prevention agreements and are expected to talk with the Navy in mid-September, Akimoto said. A representative from the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program will take part in the talks, he said.

The mayor also plans to hold regular meetings with Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Japan Rear Adm. Jamie Kelly, who guided him during the San Diego trip, according to Kanagawa Shimbun newspaper.

The Navy was “honored” by Kabaya’s visit, said CNFJ spokesman Cmdr. David Waterman.

“We are very conscious of the fact that the mayor is concerned for his constituents’ safety and welfare,” Waterman said. “It is our sincere hope that the visit provided some insight in how a local community can peacefully and safely prosper and thrive with an aircraft carrier in their midst.”

The city of Yokosuka paid for the trip, which cost 1,400,000 yen, or $12,038, according to the Sankei Shimbun.

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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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