published Sunday, August 11th, 2013

Cook: The nuclear crime scene

To talk about the Uranium Processing Facility in Oak Ridge, we must first talk about the 83-year-old nun with the can of spray paint.

Last summer, Sister Megan Rice sneaked onto Oak Ridge's Y-12 National Security Complex, supposedly one of the most guarded places in America. Past the motion sensors, guards and cameras, Sister Rice trespassed, with little more than flashlights and bolt cutters (one wonders if she had divine help).

With her, Michael Walli and Greg Boertje-Obed. One of them carried a jar of human blood; someone else, a roll of "Crime Scene" tape.

Once inside, the three -- in sweeping symbolic gesture -- protested, objected and condemned. They poured out the human blood, unrolled the crime tape, sprayed-painted what one defense attorney would call "Biblical graffiti."


Because at Y-12 in Oak Ridge, they process and enrich uranium.

Which means that at Y-12 in Oak Ridge, they make nuclear weapons.

Which means that at Y-12 in Oak Ridge, they are able to call forth weapons of mass destruction powerful enough to blow up the entire world.

And as Christians, Rice, Walli and Boertje-Obed oppose such madness.

"Jesus Christ and the Blessed Mother do not have an arsenal of any kind," Walli said during the trial.

Arrested that night and put on trial this past May, the three were found guilty of sabotage and damage in excess of $1,000. They now sit in a Georgia jail, awaiting sentencing.

The government considers them criminals.

Strange, isn't it? What's criminal. And what isn't.

The scientists in Oak Ridge continue to create weapons of destruction that threaten life as we know it. All of humanity, all of creation, linked to Oak Ridge.

This, we say, is sane. Legal. Acceptable.

The only problem, some say, is that the facility's too small.

The National Nuclear Security Administration, part of the Department of Energy, continues to receive government funding for its plans to expand Y-12.

It's called the Uranium Pro-

cessing Facility (UPF). In 2004, the project was estimated to cost $1.1 billion.

Today, it remains unfinished, and some project it won't be until 2025. And the new updated cost, paid for entirely by tax dollars?

"$6.5 billion in 2012," reads the recent U.S. Government Accountability Office report to Congress.

Pages later, the same report predicts a possibility that the plant won't be finished until 2035, increasing the cost to $11 billion.

"Eighty warheads a year," said Ralph Hutchison, with the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance. "That's what they're designing for."

It is madness.

(Ask the people of Japan, who last week remembered the anniversary of the American bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki).

We slowly drown in an economic depression, yet leaders plan on spending possibly $11 billion to expand a facility that builds weapons of mass destruction.

This, of course, is theft. Someone steals from your home, we arrest them for burglary.

Yet the NNSA continues to spend money not on the things that give life, but rather on instruments of death. And we call it legal.

"If you want to build supersized nuclear weapons, you're looking at a future where a nuclear sword hangs over the world and we continue to have a massive nuclear stockpile and we don't succeed in nuclear arms reduction," said Hutchinson.

"In that world, Iran develops nuclear weapons. Brazil and Argentina will eventually develop nuclear weapons. Other states have said: If you can't fulfill your nonproliferation treaty pretty soon, the deal is off," he continued.

Both Republicans and Democrats have pledged and signed treaties to reduce our nuclear stockpile, a message that runs in direct contrast to the UPF plans at Y-12.

And Oak Ridge leaders and certain local politicians speak of all the jobs that the new complex will bring?

"It is a lousy job creator, so few jobs for the dollar," said Hutchinson, who imagines instead using $11 billion to build 11 new VW-type facilities, which would create far more jobs and satellite businesses.

Yet the push for the UPF continues, almost like a drumbeat.

"The human race today is like an alcoholic who knows that drink will destroy him and yet always has 'good reasons' why he must continue drinking," the Trappist monk Thomas Merton wrote. "Such is man in his fatal addiction to war."

Addicts need waking up; that's what the 83-year-old nun and her fellow protesters tried to do with their holy trespassing.

"Woe Unto the Empire of Blood," they spray-painted.

The Federation of American Scientists has estimated the U.S. has 7,700 nuclear weapons.

And we wish to build more?

That is the real crime.

Contact David Cook at or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
LaughingBoy said...

Why not ask the tens of thousands of American troops who would have been lost invading Japan, what they thought about the bomb drops. Or their descendants. Maybe if America had joined together in a mass singing of Kumbaya there would have been no Pearl Harbor. Or if Peace and Justice Studies had replaced readin', writin' and 'rithmetic.

August 11, 2013 at 9:29 a.m.
anticorp said...

LaughingBoy's comment is consistent with the incessant gun and ammo purchasing at every occasion that can be construed as provocative to the gun control lobby. His type is grist for the profiteers of death.

August 11, 2013 at 1:19 p.m.
RShultz210 said...

David was mostly correct in what he has said about the tragic waste of our resources and those of other countries due to nuclear proliferation. I do not always agree with Mr. Cook and upon occasion I have said so. I have always tried to be civil whenever I disagree with David and I will continue to do so. In this instance there very little to object to except Mr. Cook's occasional tendency to use rather strong hyperbole to make a point. I can forgive Mr. Cooks statement "that at Y-12 in Oak Ridge, they are able to call forth weapons of mass destruction powerful enough to blow up the entire world." Because Mr. Cook is, as is anyone who has not studied nuclear physics, prone to attribute a bit more power to nuclear weapons than they actually possess. To completely destroy this planet would require much more force than could be generated by the simultaneous detonation of all the nuclear weapons in existence. The rest of Mr. Cooks column makes perfect sense to me. The punishment about to be meted out to Sister Rice and her companions is way too harsh for what they actually did. And to charge them with sabotage at ALL is insane. They committed trespass and did minor damage to a couple of fences and a wall or two. They damaged NONE of the equipment that Y-12 uses to accomplish its purpose, and it was the security contractor who shut down the plant and not their actions. Any half competent lawyer could have gotten the sabotage charge dropped. Since it was obvious they had damaged none of the machinery, that should have been sufficient. Of course when a government is fighting an immoral and unnecessary war, more than one in fact, then there is always the tendency for it to call those who oppose it saboteurs no matter how trivial their actions of protest may be. Mr. Cook was right when he said that it is becoming stranger and stranger the acts that this government considers to be a crime. There are now over 4500 individual acts that are considered to be federal crimes. Ayn Rand was right when she said: "There's no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws." As David pointed out in his reference to statements by Ralph Hutchison, if we continue the way we are going and don't get over our addiction to war, we will see the day when everyone has nuclear weapons. All Sister Rice and her friends did was make a particularly graphic statement to warn us of that potential future where the whole Northern Hemisphere winds up looking like Hiroshima did 68 years ago. They did nothing that they deserve federal prison for.

August 11, 2013 at 8:32 p.m.
atomtrain said...

David, you really don't have a clue do you? I was really under the impression that journalist's checked their sources before printing articles. Your Ralph Hutchinson is probably the worst resource there is. He doesn't have a clue either. I don't ever read about anybody from the Peace Alliance or Plowshare or whatever the group is called today protesting in Japan. My history is correct --- Japan started a fight and we fought and we won. Go to Iran or N. Korea and see how far the protest goes. Those are the problem spots in this world not Oak Ridge.

August 13, 2013 at 5:31 p.m.
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