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Okinawa, mainland cities tell U.S. subs to ‘stay away’

Date Posted: 2008-08-15

The furor over an announcement a US. Navy submarine may have leaked minute amounts of radiation in Japanese ports over the past couple years continues, with individual communities telling America to keep the USS Houston and other nuclear powered ships away from their ports.

Although the demands by Okinawa’s Uruma City and mainland cities Sasebo, Yokusuka and Nagasaki have no legal, binding standing, the message to the Japanese government they want better oversight of US Navy warships entering local waters is ringing loud and clear. The USS Houston, a Los Angeles-class fast attack submarine, visited Okinawa five times in the past 18 months, five port calls in Sasebo and another one in Yokusuka during a period the American Navy admits the sub could have leaked trace amounts of radiation into the water.

If it did actually happen, the Foreign Ministry says, the cumulative amount of radiation in the three ports was minute. “The amount of naturally occurring radioactivity in a harbor’s seawater is millions of times greater than the radioactivity released” by the sub. The government report says a total of 0.340 micro curies could have been released in Sasebo, 0.095 micro curies in Yokusuka, and 0.170 micro curies in Okinawa.

By comparison, U.S. officials say a common household smoke detector emits more radioactivity. Officials also say the amount was “extremely small” compared with the very minute leakage or discharge coming from civilian nuclear power plants. The Navy discovered the leak in a valve when the submarine went into dry dock at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, a few weeks ago. The leaks could have begun as early as summer 2006.

Community leaders have been angry with both U.S. military and Japanese government leaders for withholding the information for weeks before making notifications to them. U.S. officials have emphasized that “at no time was there a risk to the reactor plant, the safety of the crew, the safety of the public, marine life or the environment as a result of the port visits.”

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