Japan has formally asked the United States to explain a 1965 accident in which a U.S. carrier lost a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific near a Japanese island while bound for a Japanese port, officials said Tuesday.
"This happened in international waters so we have no right to make a loud demand," said a senior Foreign Ministry official who declined to be named. "We are just asking the United States to give us an explanation."Japanese opposition politicians and citizens' groups say the U.S. government covered up the accident. Japan is the only country ever attacked with nuclear weapons, and sentiment is strongly against nuclear arms.
The bomb was aboard an A-4 Skyhawk jet that fell off the carrier Ticonderoga about 80 miles from a small island in Japan's Ryukyu chain and 200 miles east of the heavily populated island of Okinawa, a U.S. military spokesman in Japan said.
The carrier was on its way from Vietnam to the Japanese port of Yokosuka, and the plane's pilot was killed in the accident.
After a report in the current issue of Newsweek magazine raised the issue, Japan asked Monday for a U.S. explanation.
"We are interested and concerned (about the details)," the Foreign Ministry official said.
Other officials said Japan's government does not know the location and condition of the B-43 bomb, and there had been no discussions with the United States about how to deal with it.
The magazine report, quoting nuclear expert William Arkin of the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies, said the U.S. Navy kept the incident secret until a 1981 Pentagon report that listed accidents involving nuclear weapons.
But at the time of the 1981 report, the United States "did not bring it to our attention," said the Foreign Ministry official. The report said only that the accident occurred 500 miles from the Asian mainland.
Arkin said there was scant danger the bomb would detonate, although the 33 pounds of plutonium in the bomb could threaten the environment as it deteriorates.