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Civil disobedience via The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists

Kennette Benedict

Small protests at nuclear and military facilities rarely get much media attention. But this one is raising more concerns than others have in the past, because at Oak Ridge the protesters were able to break through security at one of the most significant and oldest bomb-making plants in the country. It was at this plant where highly enriched uranium was manufactured for use in the Hiroshima bomb dropped on August 6, 1945, at the end of World War II. The “Oak Ridge Three,” as the activists will come to be known, marked the Hiroshima anniversary with vandalism — and an extraordinary breach of security at the Y-12 plant. In their statement, the trio also protested the planned construction of a new $6.5 billion uranium-processing facility next to Y-12.
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Nonproliferation policy experts, on the other hand, will draw attention to the relative ease with which these unarmed, unsophisticated protesters could cut through a fence and walk into the heart of the facility. They will point to the event as further evidence that nuclear security — that is, the securing of highly enriched uranium and plutonium — should be a top priority because it is the only way to prevent terrorist groups from acquiring nuclear bomb-making material. They will question the use of private contractors to provide security at facilities that manufacture and store the government’s most dangerous military material. In fact, the Oak Ridge intrusion took place just a few days after WSI announced plans to eliminate about 50 security jobs, including 34 security police officers at Y-12. I presume that others will also question, as I do, the need for a nuclear bomb-making plant at all — especially at a time when the United States, Russia, and other countries are talking about vastly reducing their nuclear arsenals and when former government leaders, and even the US president, are calling for a “world free of nuclear weapons.”

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