Shipboard Reactors Draw Little Response; A Mayport Study Still Seeks Public Input on a Nuclear-Powered Carrier

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Byline: STEVE PATTERSON

The possibility of basing a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier at Mayport Naval Station appears to be drawing little reaction from environmental activists.

A deadline for public participation on a key environmental study is looming today. But environmental groups concerned about other Navy issues haven't expressed concerns about housing and maintaining shipboard nuclear reactors.

"We just haven't seen a real opportunity for us to make any new observation about the nuclear plant," said Tom Larson, chairman of the Sierra Club in Northeast Florida.

The club has encouraged members to contact the Pentagon and Mayport's commanding officer about the use of sonar, which some activists say endangers the lives of right whales and other aquatic mammals.

But Larson said the organization has taken no position on whether the Navy is properly prepared to handle the potential nuclear risk in Mayport, at the mouth of the St. Johns River.

SEEKING PUBLIC COMMENT

Activists said their lack of expertise, coupled with the small scale and apparently strong safety history of Navy reactors, led them to focus their efforts on other issues. By comparison, in recent years the Navy faced significant controversy at ports in Japan and India over nuclear-powered vessels.

A Navy study about Mayport's future raised the home-porting of an aircraft carrier as one of several possibilities, which range from the base remaining underused, as it is now, to relocating ships that would bring thousands of new sailors and families to Northeast Florida.

Any carrier would require special safety procedures. That would be new to Mayport, although nuclear-powered submarines have been based in Kings Bay, Ga., since the 1980s.

Out of 82 comments the Navy recorded from residents, businesses and groups during public outreach efforts several months ago, only one raised concerns about radiation, according to the study.

The study concluded there was effectively no chance of anyone, either on base or in the surrounding community, dying from radiation exposure because of routine carrier operations. …