Forced to move to a new spot, protesters said three people were arrested on Saturday during an annual spring demonstration opposing the proposed Uranium Processing Facility at the Y-12 National Security Complex.
An area that has traditionally been used by the protesters near Y-12’s main entrance at Bear Creek and Scarboro roads was enclosed by a fence this week. So the protesters, who oppose Y-12’s nuclear weapons work, demonstrated across the street from the 811-acre plant.
Three of them were arrested during a mile-long march from the Oak Ridge Civic Center, where the demonstration started, and Y-12. They were Larry Coleman, 71, of Knoxville; Buddhist monk Gyoshu Utsumi, 60, of Newport; and Bill Ramsey, 65, of Asheville, N.C. All three were charged with impeding the flow of traffic, and they have been released from the Anderson County Detention Facility on $100-$200 bonds.
The protesters—who included demonstrators from East Tennessee, Michigan, Massachusetts, and Asheville—carried peace signs and symbols. They marched with signs that said “Stop the UPF” and others that questioned the management record of the National Nuclear Security Administration. Y-12 is an NNSA site.
The protesters said they had to speak, and they must act to protect their rights.
“We publicly declare that we have rights, but most importantly, to say ‘no’ to the UPF,” said Marcus Keyes, board member of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, which organized the demonstration.
One man, Kevin Collins of South Knoxville, wore stilts and a Grim Reaper costume with a scythe. He said he envisions a world “without the threat of instant incineration and obdurate obliteration.”
Oak Ridge Police Chief Jim Akagi said the department’s presence at Y-12 was about normal.
“We might have had a couple more, but nothing crazy,” Akagi said.
At one time, there were 10 police vehicles stationed at the intersection of Scarboro and Bear Creek roads and more than a dozen officers. They escorted the demonstrators across Scarboro Road at Bear Creek Road to a new, smaller protest area, where the marchers held signs, drummed and chanted, and had a 10-minute silence.
Additional security personnel were stationed inside the Y-12 plant. Steven Wyatt, public affairs manager for the NNSA Production Office in Oak Ridge, declined to comment on the security preparations at the plant.
“We do what we think is appropriate given what we have at hand,” Wyatt said. He said there were people at multiple locations at Y-12 to ensure security.
Wyatt and Akagi said they thought authorities performed well during the demonstration.
“I’m pleased that there were no more incidents than there were,” Akagi said. He said the protesters and officers conducted themselves professionally.
“We’re just glad that no one got hurt, and everybody went home,” Akagi said.
Still, some protesters were critical of police and federal officials, including for what they described as a zero-tolerance policy for infractions and the NNSA decision to fence off the former Y-12 demonstration area. Protesters called that enclosure an assault on their First Amendment rights. They’ve challenged it in federal court and unsuccessfully tried to have it removed before Saturday’s demonstration.
The demonstrators reminded each other not to cross the white line on the side of the road as they marched, and they weren’t allowed to park their cars on the side of the road near Y-12’s main entrance.
“I feel like it has been quite vindictive,” OREPA Coordinator Ralph Hutchison said.
But Akagi pointed out that the demonstrators had been allowed to protest. He said police, who worked with federal officials, had to be careful about protecting people, including along Scarboro Road, which has very narrow shoulders in some spots.
The NNSA said it was installing the new fence at Y-12 after three trespassing incidents involving five people in the past year, including the July 28 security breach, when three anti-nuclear weapons activists penetrated Y-12’s high-security Protected Area and vandalized the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility.
Before they marched to Y-12, accompanied by four police cars, about 100 demonstrators listened to music and enjoyed skits at A.K. Bissell Park, and heard why OREPA opposes UPF, which could cost up to $6.5 billion or more. The three anti-nuclear weapons activists who broke into Y-12 last year—Greg Boertje-Obed, Megan Rice, and Michael Walli—re-enacted the statement they read during the July 28 security breach.
Y-12 was built to enrich uranium during World War II as part of the top-secret Manhattan Project, a federal program to build the world’s first atomic weapons. Today, it stores most of the nation’s weapons-grade uranium, refurbishes nuclear warhead parts, provides nuclear fuel for the U.S. Navy and research reactors, and supports nuclear nonproliferation, among other things.
Note: This story was last updated at 9:30 a.m. April 7.