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August 19, 2015
Oak Ridge, Tennessee is the “birthplace” of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 because all the highly enriched uranium fuel for Little Boy was manufactured there. In fact, Oak Ridge's Y-12 plant currently produces all the thermonuclear cores for refurbishing all of the U.S. nuclear warheads. So it seemed important to about 150 people to gather in Oak Ridge on Saturday, August 8th to march to the Y-12 plant and hang peace cranes on its fence, trying to commemorate the death of 140,000 civilian Japanese and say “no” to the proposed spending of billions of taxpayer dollars to replace the aging plant.
The initial gathering took place at Bissell Park where a stage and sound system allowed the crowd to enjoy music from a number of talented performers, speeches, and a dramatic presentation by human-sized puppets. The Oak Ridge Peace Alliance organized this and other events during the week leading up to Saturday. Most impressive were two speeches: one by the coordinator of OREPA, Ralph Hutchison, giving the plan for replacing the Y-12 plant, and the second by the group of recently released Transform Now Plowshares members, Sr. Megan Rice, Bvertje Obed, and Michael Walli. This latter group had done civil disobedience at the Y-12 plant in 2012, were tried for sabotage, sentenced to 3-5 years in prison and recently released by an appellate judge who said their crime was not sabotage and found the sentences unjust. At the end of the Bissell Park rally, the crowd marched two miles to the Y-12 plant, led by several Buddhists and others who had walked from Asheville over a week's time carrying their banner “70 miles for the 70th Anniversary.”
The biggest learning of the day for those of us who have not kept up with recent events surrounding the Y-12 plant were the plans to replace it with a brand new Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) with an initial price tag of 6.5 billion dollars. However, $2 billion has already been spent on design, and there are many unresolved issues. When and if the plant ever does get built, it will probably cost over 20 billion. One of the obstacles is that the National Nuclear Security Administration has said the plant is necessary, but has failed to produce the documentation and report demanded by Congress. Also, NNSA wants to use the old Environmental Impact Statement for the new plant but can't. Finally, the US Geological Survey says the risk of a significant earthquake in Oak Ridge is greater that previously thought and the current UPF plan calls for modernizing some buildings that don't meet seismic standards and can not be brought up to code. Of course, none of these reasons approach the big reason why we in the peace movement think the plant should not be built—there is no need for it (why would anyone use an atomic bomb now that we know the human and environmental cost and the fact that “winners” in an atomic war are also “losers”).
Additional arguments for not building the plant were offered in a litany led by the Transform Now Plowshares. They cited treaties that the US signed and is bound by: the United Nations Charter and the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and they quoted the Nuremberg Principles, which the US promoted, because the use of a nuclear bomb would certainly be a “crime against humanity” and cause genocide. A clever analysis that OREPA did was to figure out what else could be bought for 6.5 billion dollars—the original planned cost of the UPF. They figured that 118,000 Habitat homes could be built, or Tennessee could hire 800 teachers for 10 years in every county in the state, or build three new state of the art schools in every county. This analysis brings home the quote they cite from Pope Francis in his paper, “Time for Abolition.” Spending on nuclear weapons “squanders the wealth of nations.”