Oak Ridge, Tennessee is the birthplace of the bomb—the uranium that fueled the world’s first atomic bomb, Little Boy, was enriched at the Y12 Nuclear Weapons Plant in Oak Ridge. In the years since, Y12’s mission shifted from uranium enrichment to production of thermonuclear secondaries; Y12 has produced the secondary for every nuclear warhead in the US stockpile. The secondary is the part of the bomb that makes it an H-bomb rather than an A-bomb.
Standing at Y12 to remember Hiroshima is important not only for the historical link, but because Y12 remains “Ground Zero” for the message of the hibakusha—Never Again!—which has been so courageously and clearly articulated by many at Y12 in the past. OREPA’s Hiroshima Day commemorations attempt to amplify the hibakusha’s call and to use it to move from the past to the future.
This year, with Oak Ridge on the verge of beginning construction on the next generation of nuclear weapons production plants—the Uranium Processing Facility—the call to desist from bomb production has an acute resonance and a profound urgency.
Our commemoration began on Sunday, August 5 with an expanded and enhanced Sunday vigil, complete with skits, music by the Emancipators and others, a potluck feast, Buddhist drumming and chanting, and the reading of the Mayor of Hiroshima’s statement. We were joined by the good men of Bike Not Bombs/Footprints for Peace, who completed their eight day bike trek from the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Ohio through the hills of Kentucky and Tennessee.
At 7:15pm (8:15am Hiroshima Time), we paused with the people of Hiroshima for silent reflection on the 1945 bombing of Hiroshima by the United States.
By 8:00, most people had left, but a dozen people remained as part of an Occupation of Y12. The plan was to stay until the Names and Remembrance Ceremony scheduled for 6:00am on Monday, August 6.
Between 8:30 and 10:00pm we were treated to a drama provided by the Y12 security forces and management that was striking in its ineptness. Y12 was on high alert following the daring midnight incursion by the Transform Now Plowshares group that entered the facility on Saturday, July 28, and penetrated the deepest lines of security to hang banners, pray, pour blood and paint on the walls of the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility.
Despite a prior agreement that people could spend the night at Y12 as long as conditions were met — no tents and no sleeping bags — at 8:30 a Wackenhut security officer approached the Occupiers and declared they had 30 minutes to clear or be arrested. On whose authority? On his—the Incident Commander. End of conversation. Several phone calls later, we were informed that we could in fact stay, but no tents and no sleeping bags (we had neither). And no sleeping. Or no lying on the ground.
Neither the arbitrary and capricious nature of this edict, nor the unenforceability of it seemed evident to the officer delivering the message. How does one arrest a sleeping person? How does one determine if a person is sleeping, meditating, or praying? How is it that an awake person is not trespassing, but a sleeping person is?
We began to map out the night. Some planned to stay the entire night, others began to select shifts—to go and sleep until 3:00am and then come and relieve others.
Then, at 10:00pm, Wackenhut Incident Commander Seals returned with Oak Ridge police officers. Leave by 10:30 or be arrested. By order of the NNSA. We left, fully confident that if Y12 had achieved nothing else in four days of a security stand-down, they had at least been able to demonstrate areas of weakness, including threat assessment, chain of command confusion, incoherent communication, and a striking inability to formulate a rational policy. In the paper later, NNSA spokesman Steve Wyatt declared the NNSA had informed OREPA on Friday that the Occupation would not be permitted. This, of course, was a lie, pure and simple. No NNSA person every contacted OREPA; and the Wackenhut liaison who did call not only did not forbid the occupation, he outlined the conditions under which it would be permitted.
At 6:00am (we confirmed before leaving the night before that the Magic Zone of No Trespassing would be lifted in time for our Names and Remembrance ceremony), we gathered for the annual Names and Remembrance ceremony. For three hours, names of the victims of the Hiroshima bombing were read aloud, accompanied by the peal of a bell, a peace crane was tied to the Y12 perimeter fence for each name read.
First person accounts of the bombing, along with historical documents that set the context for the decision to bomb and the effects of the bomb, were also read, along with poetry from witnesses and survivors.
By the time we were finished, the fence held hundreds of peace cranes as well as a dozen signs declaring “No 2 UPF @ Y12.” When summer showers arrived, we moved pop up tents into position and carried on.
At 8:15am, the three dozen gathered fell silent. Several minutes later, the drumming and chanting of the Na Mu Myo Ho Ren Ge Kyo by the Buddhists of Nipponzan Myohoji/Great Smoky Mountain Peace Pagoda brought us back to the real world, and our readings continued until 9:00am. While most people left to resume the normal activities of their day, Utsumi Shonin and Denise-san remained to keep a fast and vigil at Y12.