Hundreds of protesters gathered outside a U.S. naval base Wednesday to oppose the arrival of the USS George Washington, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier that is to make its home port just outside of Tokyo.
About 500 protesters rallied near Yokosuka Naval Base, just south of Tokyo, shouting slogans and waving banners ahead of the ship's scheduled arrival early Thursday.
The George Washington, which can carry a crew of up to 5,600 and 70 aircraft, will replace the USS Kitty Hawk as the U.S. Navy's only carrier with a home port outside of the United States.
The demonstrators say the ship poses a threat to the city because of the possibility of an accident in its nuclear reactor. They also are opposed to the increase in sailors who will be deployed to Yokosuka as a result of the ship swap, and say the carrier could make Yokosuka a target if hostilities break out between the United States and another country.
"We are here to show our strong opposition to the deployment of the George Washington," said Kenji Hatano, a local assembly member. "We cannot accept this."
The Navy has said the deployment of the carrier demonstrates America's commitment to providing the most advanced capabilities to the U.S. 7th fleet. The decision to base the George Washington in Yokosuka has also been welcomed by Japan's government.
Along with the 7th Fleet, about 50,000 U.S. troops are deployed throughout Japan under a mutual security pact.
The Kitty Hawk, which is to be decommissioned, was conventionally powered and the deployment of the George Washington has raised concerns among anti-nuclear groups, who say it should not be located so close to Japan's capital.
Yokosuka is about 30 miles (45 kilometers) south of Tokyo.
Such concerns were heightened when the U.S. Navy disclosed in early August that the USS Houston, a submarine, had leaked water containing radiation during several calls to Sasebo and Okinawa, in southern Japan, and Yokosuka between July 2006 and April 2008.
A Navy investigation found the leak posed no danger to Japan.
Concerns over safety were also raised after a fire broke out aboard the carrier in May. The fire, which is believed to have been caused by smoking in an unauthorized area, resulted in dozens of injuries and an estimated US$70 million in damage.
The ship's commanding officer and executive officer were relieved of duty.
The choice of the city of Helsinki is not incidental as the capital of Finland had hosted US-Soviet negotiations on the limitation of nuclear stockpiles in 1969