- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 3, 2008

TOKYO | The U.S. Navy said that one of its nuclear-powered submarines had leaked minimally radioactive water earlier this year, threatening to stir up Japan where both the U.S. military presence and its nuclear vessels are controversial.

The Navy said Friday that it discovered the leak on July 17, when a gallon of water spilled from a valve while the submarine was in dry dock for routine maintenance at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. An investigation showed that water may have been slowly leaking from the valve since March as the Los Angeles-class submarine traveled around the Pacific.

The total amount of radioactivity released into the environment from the USS Houston at each stop was less than one half a microcurie, U.S. Pacific Fleet spokesman Capt. Scott Gureck said.

Capt. Gureck said that was a negligible amount, equivalent to the radioactivity of a 50-pound bag of fertilizer.

Akihiro Yoshida, a city official in Sasebo, where the Houston made a port call in late March, said government monitoring showed no abnormal increase of radioactivity in the area’s waters during the submarine’s calls.

“Still, we are rather concerned,” Mr. Yoshida said.

Many people in Japan, the only country to have suffered atomic bombings, are sensitive about the military use of nuclear technology and the presence of American forces. The U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 killed at least 200,000 people.

News of the leak also comes just weeks ahead of the controversial arrival of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington, to be based in Yokosuka, just south of Tokyo.

The carrier’s arrival originally was set for August under a Japan-U.S. security alliance but was delayed until late September because of a fire aboard the vessel in May. The George Washington is relieving the soon-to-be decommissioned USS Kitty Hawk and will be the first U.S. nuclear-powered ship to be stationed permanently in Japan.

The George Washington’s deployment already has triggered protests, and the fire escalated concerns that many Japanese have about nuclear power.

Masahiko Goto, a lawyer representing a citizens group opposing the George Washington’s deployment, sharply criticized the U.S. Navy.

“They had discovered the radiation leak weeks ago and did not inform the Japanese government immediately,” Mr. Goto said. “The U.S. Navy’s handling of the accident and lack of transparency showed there is no way we can trust them.”

The Navy said it didn’t publicize the leak itself because the radioactivity released was below a level that would warrant a public announcement.

The Foreign Ministry acknowledged that it was told about the leak by the U.S. Navy on Friday but waited a day to announce it because the amount was negligible.

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