Workers started erecting a temporary fence at the Y-12 National Security Complex on Monday, enclosing an area that has traditionally been used for protests by an Oak Ridge nonprofit group.
Federal officials said they are installing the fence along Scarboro Road after three trespassing incidents involving five people in the past year. In one of those incidents, three anti-nuclear weapons activists penetrated a high-security area and splashed human blood and spray-painted slogans on the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility, where bomb-grade uranium is stored.
On Thursday, the National Nuclear Security Administration said recent events have shown a greater threat of trespassing, and the response costs are increasing.
But the nonprofit Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance alleged the fence, which will run from Bear Creek Road to New Hope Road, is designed to prevent the organization from having its peace vigils and demonstrations at the main entrance to the 811-acre plant, which is involved in nuclear weapons work and processes and stores uranium. OREPA Coordinator Ralph Hutchison has said it’s an assault on the group’s right to free assembly and free speech.
A temporary version of the fence, which will also include the publicly accessible New Hope Center, is scheduled to be completed by Thursday. That’s two days before OREPA’s annual spring demonstration on April 6.
The NNSA has said the new fence will not be designed to keep people from crossing it, but it will let them know they should not go any farther. Those who cross it will be subject to state and federal charges.
On Sunday, OREPA had what could be its last protest in a grass field next to the big, green Y-12 sign near the intersection of Bear Creek and Scarboro roads. The NNSA has said the group could apply to use the New Hope Center for its vigils and demonstrations, but in response, OREPA said that space is less visible, and it would require the group to request permission, pay fees, and secure insurance.
Among other things, OREPA said the previous three-strand barbed wire fence, set back farther from Scarboro Road than the new fence, was already half a mile or more from the weapon production facilities at Y-12, and no security threat has ever been launched from there.