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Stopping the Bombs at Oak Ridge

by Irish Flambeau

Did you know that there are 5,000 nuclear bombs on hair triggers worldwide? Catastrophic destruction and widespread death is only one mistake away. In 1995 the world was four minutes away from nuclear detonation when Russian computers mistook an American satellite launch for a nuclear weapon. We continue to sit with our feet hanging over the precipice of destruction.

The Gaia Reclaiming group in Georgia learned about the current state of nuclear armament from an ongoing campaign called "Stop the Bombs," led by the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance (OREPA). Twice a year, OREPA and its "Peace Partners" stage demonstrations outside the gates of the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee — the last full scale nuclear bomb plant in the U.S.

This year, we decided to participate by holding our Lughnasadh ritual at the gates of the bomb plant. (See end of article for more on the Oak Ridge facility.)

The first event we participated in was the kickoff walk for a pilgrimage of a Buddhist monk and nun based in the Nipponzan Myohoji dojo in Atlanta. Members of this dojo have vowed to walk annually from Atlanta to Oak Ridge until bomb production ceases. Their dojo was intentionally placed in Atlanta, the resting place of Martin Luther King, Jr., in order to honor and continue Reverend King's work of nonviolent action. The pilgrimage would take them three weeks and began with a three mile walk to King's tomb on Auburn Avenue.

During the walk we drummed, chanted and answered questions from motorists. King's tomb rests surrounded by a long rectangular reflecting pool next to an interfaith chapel; there the group of Buddhists, Pagans, Catholics, Episcopalians, and people of other faiths prayed and meditated. We returned to the dojo for a potluck meal where we met activists from different faiths.

Oak Ridge: Upgrading Warheads

As we got involved at Oak Ridge, we learned that our government is upgrading W87 nuclear warheads (for the MX missile), lengthening the warhead's shelf life from 30 years to 100 years.

Ten W87 warheads are put into an MX missile with a subassembly that changes the nuclear reaction to a thermonuclear one. Oak Ridge's Y-12 facility is responsible for this subassembly which makes an atomic bomb thermonuclear.

One MX missile has the destructive capability of 100,000 Hiroshima bombs. If a single W87 warhead was detonated (not to mention ten in an MX missile), this is what would happen:

Within a fraction of a second, a fireball would reach two miles in every direction. The air temperature would be million degrees Farenheit and everything would be vaporized.
At six miles, sheet metal would melt.
10 miles in all directions, reinforced concrete buildings would be severely damaged and all other buildings destroyed.
16 miles around, all flammable materials would ignite, creating a firestorm covering 800 square miles.
At 19 miles, shards of glass and debris would be hurled by 100 mph winds.
Human, animal and plant death owuld occur far beyond, due to shifting clouds of radioactive fallout. Cancer from polluted water and food would kill many more in years to come.

We saw the Buddhists again in North Carolina at a potluck dinner and presentation at a Unity-affiliated church. The crowd was mainly senior citizens and included veterans supporting the peace action as well as people who had joined the pilgrimage, which is open to anyone. There were pilgrims from Japan, Australia and the U.S. The Buddhists spoke about the bomb plant, their walk, and a Peace Pagoda they are building in Tennesee as a focal point of peace. Someone asked the nun what her group is doing about "renegade nations like Iraq." She answered that they are working in the renegade nation of the U.S. and that right here is the most fertile mission ground.

The day before the demonstration, Gaia Reclaiming led Dances of Universal Peace for OREPA's class on civil disobedience, with 75 people dancing. During the demonstration, we led another Dance with 100 people. The energy raised was peaceful, yet strong. We also held our Lughnasadh ritual with a tailgate altar.

The atmosphere at the day-long demonstration was festive, with speeches and musical acts. A giant puppet skit re-enacted the bombing of Hiroshima. At the end of the day, the crowd spread out along a barbed wire fence to the plant entrance. Groups crossed the barbed wire or the line at the gate in acts of conscience. We witnessed a group kneeling in prayer while police calmly placed plastic handcuffs on them and led them away.

Counter-protesters from a "Christian militia" group were present. Their message: "Nukes keep us free," and demonstrators should "stop living off our taxes." A sister Reclaimer had reminded me that the bomb-makers (also a part of the Divine) are full of fears and are acting out a need for safety. It was obvious to me that this was true about the counter-protestors. I was grateful for the opportunity to see through their angry words to their humanity and divinity, while letting them know they are wrong.

I am amazed that few people know about this threat to life that is right in our back yard. There is so much for us to do, right here, to work for peace and life.

Irish Flambeau is a Peace Witch and member of Gaia Reclaiming in Georgia. Contact Gaia Reclaiming,