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YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — The majority of opinions expressed at a mayoral listening session Monday approved the future arrival of a U.S. Navy nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to Yokosuka in 2008.

The group of local neighborhood and union leaders, activists and businesspeople spoke on the issue to Yokosuka’s mayor, Ryoichi Kabaya.

“I was able to listen to many opinions. I would like to take these opinions seriously. But this does not mean that I will make a decision right away,” Kabaya said during a post-meeting news conference. Kabaya was referring to a decision on whether to change the city’s current stance against basing a nuclear-powered carrier in Yokosuka on safety and oversight concerns.

Kabaya convened the closed-door meeting to take the community pulse on the divisive issue following the October announcement that the nuclear-powered USS George Washington would replace the 45-year-old, conventionally-powered USS Kitty Hawk aircraft carrier. The George Washington would be forward-deployed to Yokosuka Naval Base.

While some people oppose a nuclear-powered carrier, many encourage its approval but with conditions, said Takehito Akimoto, chief of Yokosuka’s military base division. Many people supporting the carrier didn’t like the idea, but they thought it necessary to preserve the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty, he said.

Mayor Kabaya is also torn for this reason, he said, but he is “not against the military base,” Akimoto said.-

The number of speakers shrank significantly before meeting time, as Kabaya originally asked for 62 participants. Two said they couldn’t attend, and just days before the meeting, 13 city council members were excluded on the basis their opinions could wait for a city council meeting. Of the 47 people remaining, 38 showed up and 24 spoke, Akimoto said.

There was no Navy representative in attendance, according to a Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Japan spokesman.

The city has been criticized for closing the session to the public, but Akimoto said it was a success as people could speak freely.

“The purpose [of the meeting] was achieved,” Akimoto said.

A larger-scale general public meeting is planned for June 8 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., where 120 people will be given the opportunity to speak along with 30 observers, who will be drawn from people who wish to attend, at Werk Yokosuka, behind City Hall.

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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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