The National Nuclear Regulator has given permission for the United States nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt to drop anchor in Table Bay this week.

The approval was granted over objections from environmental group Earthlife Africa, which has said it plans protests against the vessel. The 332 metre carrier is expected to arrive on Saturday on a courtesy visit at the invitation of the SA Navy. She will be accompanied by the cruiser USS Monterey.

A spokesman for the regulator, Tim Hill, said on Wednesday that the licence granted for the visit obliged the applicants – the SA and US navies – to observe safe operating procedures. It also called for an emergency plan devised by the City of Cape Town to be operational.

Hill said though the licence allowed the regulator to monitor the environment around the ship for radiation, it would likely rely only on existing detectors set up to monitor Koeberg nuclear power station, a few kilometres north of the Roosevelt’s planned anchorage.

The vessel would lay up in the middle of Table Bay, he said. He believed this would be the first visit to Cape Town by a nuclear-powered vessel since the German cargo ship the Otto Hahn in the 1970s.

Nuclear-powered submarines from the British navy had however visited Simonstown. The US Navy said in a statement on Wednesday that the visit was “part of an ongoing effort to reinforce relationships, increase interoperability and address maritime issues”.

“Our nations share a mutual interest in safeguarding the maritime environment, which plays a critical role in today’s global economy,” said Admiral Mark Fitzgerald, commander of US naval forces for Europe and Africa. The ships were scheduled to host formal visits, regional “security cooperation activities”, military exchanges, and to participate in community relations activities.

Senior officers from the ships would also meet South African government and military leaders. The statement said the last US carrier to visit South Africa was the USS Franklin D Roosevelt in 1967.

The Theodore Roosevelt, built in the early 1980s, carries a crew of about 3200, with another 2480 members of the air wing, plus 85 aircraft. She first saw active service in the US’ 1991 Operation Desert Shield, dropping over 4.8 million pounds of explosives.