Chennai prepared for Nimitz arrival, say officials


Chennai : USS Nimitz, a nuclear-powered warship of the US, is set to be berthed in India's territorial waters off Chennai later Sunday and Indian officials say stringent radiation and security monitoring are in place.

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"Nimitz will be in waters just about four kilometres (two nautical miles) away (from Chennai's docks)," said Commodore P.E. Vanhaltern, in charge of the Indian Navy in Tamil Nadu.

He added: "A stringent radiation monitoring protocol is in place."

The warship, here on a four-day goodwill visit, will be visible from beaches in Chennai, said Captain Michael C. Manazir, commanding officer of the Nimitz.

Boats will bring in the several thousand of its sailors and airmen to India's east coast for a holiday. The Americans are eager to mark on shore the Independence Day celebrations July 4-5.

The sailors will be involved in community work while on shore – painting murals on old age home walls and in cleaning the Marina Beach!

Most resorts and hotels along the east coast – from Chennai to Pondicherry – are booked for the Americans to celebrate July 4, sources in the hotel industry said.

There will be round-the-clock patrolling around the Nimitz by the Indian Navy till July 5 when the ship with nearly 6,000 crewmembers on board finally moves out of Indian waters.

Officials of the nuclear-powered USS Nimitz had earlier said they could "neither confirm nor deny" whether any nuclear missiles were on board the ship.

"The general US policy is that we do not routinely deploy nuclear weapons on any of our ships, attack submarines or aircraft. We do not deploy (nuclear weapons) routinely. We do not go into specifics," said Rear Admiral John Terence Blake, commander, Carrier Strike Group 11 of USS Nimitz.

Six environment monitoring centres have been put in place along 200 km of Chennai coast to monitor air and water samples. Three radiation monitoring labs have been set up and one will be on a ship, parked one km from the Nimitz.

Two mobile vans, patrolling along the coast, will also be monitoring radiation emission, Vanhaltern said.

The official added that a crisis management cell of the Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO) was in charge of implementing a "Radiation Safety Contingency Plan".

DRDO's environmental safety committee chief A.R. Reddy said: "IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) rules allow a nuclear powered ship to berth 1.5 kilometres from the shore. The Nimitz is 3 kilometres away."

Political parties, trade unions and environmentalists are opposed to the ship's arrival. Apart from safety concerns, many are critical of India reversing its past policy of opposing transit of nuclear weapons in its neighbourhood.

But Indian and US officials have rubbished the radiation aspect, pointing out that Nimitz has some 6,000 personnel on board and that any radiation leak would affect the ship's crew first before causing damage to others.

The US has also said that the nuclear safety record of US nuclear-powered warships has been outstanding and that there has been no nuclear accident in the 56-plus-year history of the programme.