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YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Yokosuka’s mayor is headed to San Diego — permanent base of the largest U.S. nuclear fleet — to prepare for the 2008 arrival of the nuclear carrier USS George Washington. His last stateside visit in December was to ask the United States not to send it at all.

This trip, Mayor Ryoichi Kabaya is to see how communities live with nuclear warships and Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Japan Rear Adm. James Kelly will be his tour guide. Kelly invited Kabaya during a meeting July 10, said CNFJ spokesman Jon Nylander.

“Adm. Kelly wishes the mayor to see for himself how communities live with nuclear warships in the vicinity and … talk to the mayors of San Diego and Coronado about various issues that concern the mayor and citizens of Yokosuka,” Nylander said Friday.

Kabaya will be in San Diego Aug. 14-18. The City of Yokosuka is paying for the trip, said Yokosuka city military base division assistant manager Masashi Suzuki.

No media is invited, unlike a similar San Diego tour led by the U.S. Navy for Yokosuka’s City Council members and business leaders this spring.

Hosting a nuclear-powered ship has hit Yokosuka’s hot button for years. A citizen’s group recently presented Kabaya with a 500,000-signature petition of those opposed to the George Washington’s deployment to Yokosuka. A protest drew 10,000 people to Yokosuka Naval Base gates earlier this month.

Kabaya also initially objected at the U.S. Navy’s October announcement that the George Washington would replace the USS Kitty Hawk, the Navy’s oldest conventionally powered aircraft carrier. The arguments he voiced were based on safety concerns. He visited Washington, D.C., in December, requesting a conventionally powered carrier be sent to Yokosuka.

Kabaya shifted his stance in June, calling the arrival of a nuclear-powered carrier in Yokosuka “inevitable.”

Safety measures still are an important part of the trip, said Suzuki. Kabaya plans on asking about the California cities’ safety measures, such as provisions for crisis management and notification procedures, he said.

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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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