Cook: The nuclear crime scene

Cook: The nuclear crime scene

August 11th, 2013 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse /Times Free Press.

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.