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Peace and environmental activists block ground-clearing for new nuke-parts plant
By Jane Stoever, freelance writer in KC and an activist with PeaceWorks-KC

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Protesters at the site of the new Nuclear Components Plant in Kansas City
Photo: Eric Bowers

“Stop building for nuclear war” proclaimed a banner activists held aloft as they marched toward one of about 20 Caterpillars and earth-movers clearing farmland for a nuclear weapons parts plant in Kansas City, Mo.

Fourteen of about 90 protesters blocked the Caterpillar, were arrested and held a few hours, and were ordered to appear in municipal court Oct. 7 on trespass charges. Reporters said the protesters stopped work at the site for two hours.

“We were part of an outpouring of resistance from the nation's heartland, saying no to new nuke production!” said Ann Suellentrop of Physicians for Social Responsibility-KC, Sierra Club and PeaceWorks-KC member. “The field being cleared was a soybean field a year ago and a wheat field two years ago. We scattered seeds there today in the open furrows, trying to protect mother earth and humanity from the scourge of nuclear weapons.”

The new site lies at Mo. Hwy. 150 and Botts Road. The current, 61-year-old Kansas City Plant, at Bannister Federal Complex, makes and procures non-nuclear parts for nuclear weapons, including radars, guidance systems, firing systems and security devices; the new plant will “enhance” the KC Plant's work. The new facility and new plants to be built in Oak Ridge, Tenn. (for production of uranium secondaries) and in Los Alamos, N.M. (for plutonium pit production) will quadruple the nation's ability to produce new nuclear weapons, said Jay Coghlan of Nuclear Watch New Mexico at a forum in Kansas City Aug. 14.

“This witness was a powerful opportunity to stop the machinery from clearing the land for the first new U.S. nuclear weapons production plant in 32 years, and I feel personal responsibility to prevent it from being built,” said Felice Cohen-Joppa of Tucson , Ariz. , co-editor of The Nuclear Resister and one of the 14 charged with trespassing.

She helped the protesters develop a statement for the workers, police and media. “The International Court of Justice found that the destructive power of nuclear weapons cannot be contained in either space or time, and nuclear weapons have the potential to destroy all civilization and the entire ecosystem of the planet, and thus are illegal,” the statement noted. “In keeping with the Nuremburg Principles, we choose to act nonviolently rather than be complicit.”

The statement also mentioned contaminants that more than 250 former workers at the Kansas City Plant and other agencies under the same roof as the plant say have made them ill. Families of 122 other former workers say their family members died from the contaminants. “The current plant and the future plant threaten the health and well-being of workers, our environment and the Kansas City community,” the statement noted. See the NBC Action News list of injured or deceased workers at http://media2.nbcactionnews.com/pdf/sickBANNISTERlist.pdf.

“The Sierra Club has worked diligently for years to expose the widespread environmental pollution at the Kansas City Plant,” said Scott Dye, director of the national Sierra Club's Water Sentinels Program, based in Columbia, MO.

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Protesters facing police at the new Nuclear Components Plant in Kansas City
Photo: Eric Bowers

“The facility's soil and the aquifer beneath it is a chemical stew of hazardous toxins, and the plant remains a menace to its workers, public health and safety, and the environment.” At least 15 sites at the facility are in the US Environmental Protection Agency's Superfund database-listing America's most dangerously polluted sites. In April, the Sierra Club and Physicians for Social Responsibility-KC formally petitioned EPA to reassess the entire complex for potential inclusion on Superfund's National Priorities List, which would mandate a plan and timeline for cleanup. EPA agreed to do a complete reassessment that is currently ongoing.

“There shouldn't even be any discussions about a new plant until the unresolved questions are answered,” said Dye. “How bad is the legacy pollution at the current plant, who is going to clean it up, and when? This is fundamental stuff you learn in kindergarten, you make a mess, you clean it up,” concluded Dye.

As Coghlan explained during the Aug. 14 forum, through a convoluted development plan, “the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has shrouded its responsibility for the project” and will sublease the new plant from the federal General Services Administration, which will sublease it from the private developer CenterPoint Zimmer (CPZ), a limited liability corporation formed by Chicago-based CenterPoint and Kansas City-based Zimmer Real Estate Services. CPZ has a 20-year lease-to-purchase deal from the current owners, the Planned Industrial Expansion Authority, the agency of the City of Kansas City that is subsidizing the whole project through the sale of about $700 million in municipal bonds. Strangely enough, the PIEA bought the 177-acre field last month for more than $5 million from CPZ, which just “happened” to own the land NNSA chose for its new production plant, said Coghlan. The PIEA retains title to the property. “I don't know of any other case in the world in which a city government owns a federal nuclear bomb production plant,” said Coghlan.

Suellentrop commented, “In a bizarre privatization scheme, Zimmer Real Estate and other private corporations are making out like bandits under the cover of urban blight funds, while nearly all the inner-city hospitals in Kansas City have closed, our bridges are crumbling, the city's in the red and nearly half our schools have been closed.”

PeaceWorks-KC, Physicians for Social Responsibility-KC and a third group opposing the new plant, East Meets West of Troost, plan further nonviolent resistance actions in conjunction with the Sept. 8 groundbreaking and the Oct. 7 court hearings for the 14 protesters.

For more information, contact blog: kcnukeswatch.wordpress.com, web: nukewatch.org/KCNukePlant, or Sierra Club office at Missouri.chapter@sierraclub.org or 800-628-5333.