As peace activists converge on the gates of Y-12 Sunday for the annual commemoration of the atomic attacks on Japan, security remains on high alert in the wake of an unprecedented break-in by protesters last week.
The three protesters, including an 82-year-old nun, cut through several fences at Y-12 on July 28 and vandalized the outside of the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility (HEUMF). They face felony charges for destruction of property and misdemeanor charges of federal trespassing. Y-12 has temporarily shut down all nuclear production while it reviews security.
"This of course is the weekend the commemoration of the bombing of Hiroshima," said Ralph Hutchison, coordinator for the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance. "For us, it's always a very solemn time to gather here."
The United States dropped the first atomic bomb known as "Little Boy" 67 years ago on Hiroshima, Japan. The weapon's devastating blast was fueled by uranium enriched at Y-12.
Jim Toren pedaled his way from Cincinnati, Ohio, to attend the ceremony that honors those who died in the blast.
"It took us nine days to bike down here," said Toren. "We only saw television once, so we did not have a lot of information but we knew some of what happened [with the Cropshares protesters]. What they did is a courageous thing to put their lives on the line for what they believe in."
Hutchison said Sunday's vigil did not seem much different than other years, despite the recent events at Y-12. The increased security inside the gates did not have any impact on OREPA's vigil on the outside. The group gathers every Sunday at the gates and does not trespass.
"We traditionally have been non-confrontational. We don't do stuff to upset security or the authorities," said Hutchison.
While his organization does not partake in the types of attention-grabbing trespassing observed last week, Hutchison said he supports the message of those who did break in.
"The movement to try to abolish nuclear weapons takes a lot of different forms. Here we are activists out here. Last weekend there were Plowshares people going inside," said Hutchison.
While they sang and danced outside the gates Sunday, the activists said they do not want the methods of delivery to overshadow the actual message.
"The only guarantee we can have that we will not have another Hiroshima is to stop producing thermo-nuclear weapons here at Oak Ridge and all the other places around the world," said Hutchison.
Some protesters will remain outside the gates of Y-12 from Sunday night until 6 a.m. Monday morning for what they call "Occupy Y-12." The event is held in opposition to plans for a uranium processing facility at Y-12. At 6 a.m. the group will hold a ceremony in which members will read aloud the names of all those who died during the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.