Nuclear Front Lines: Grandparents Head to Jail Protecting Us From Radioactive Fallout

Five elders pray before sentencing by federal court. (Photo by Leonard Eiger)
While Japan begins yet another multi-generational nuclear nightmare as a result of the nuclear power plant  meltdown at Fukushima, here on the home front two grandmothers, two priests, and a nun go to jail for protecting you and me against a similar fate.

In Tacoma, Washington, on Monday, March 28, 2011, 5 of our elders were sentenced in federal court for calling to account the hundreds of U.S. nuclear weapons stockpiled for use by our Trident submarines. The Trident base at Bangor is home to the largest single stockpile of nuclear warheads in the U.S. arsenal.

For years there has been a concerted effort by the nuclear and defense industry to distance nuclear weapons production from nuclear power. In reality, it is all one industry that produces all one result: a deadly toxin with no known cure that kills everything it encounters either immediately or slowly over generations through cancer and genetic mutation. Whether used offensively in weaponized form or “passively” to boil water and turn on lights, nuclear fission–as an industry–must be dismantled.

(Note: Nuclear medicine accounts for a tiny percentage of radioactive material in the U.S. and can continue with proper regulation.)

Nuclear weapons and nuclear energy are all part of the same death cycle. It’s time to stop nuclear weapons production, research, upgrades, and extended contracts. It’s time to dismantle existing nuclear weapons.

It’s time to suspend licensing for all nuclear power plants. It’s time to end subsidies to the nuclear power industry. If we transferred the nuclear power industry’s subsidy money toward renewable resources, then within 5 years we could be well on our way to carbon-free energy independence.

So who are the grandparents out defending you against a radioactive future? Sentenced were:

*Anne Montgomery, 83, a Sacred Heart sister from New York, who was ordered to serve 2 months in federal prison and 4 months electronic home confinement
*Bill Bischel, 81, a Jesuit priest from Tacoma Washington, ordered to serve 3 months in prison and 6 months electronic home confinement
*Susan Crane, 67, a member of the Jonah House community in Baltimore, Maryland, ordered to serve 15 months in federal prison
*Lynne Greenwald, 60, a nurse from Bremerton Washington, ordered to serve 6 months in federal prison
*Steve Kelly, 60, a Jesuit priest from Oakland California, ordered to serve 15 months in federal prison

They were also ordered to pay $5300 each and serve an additional year in supervised probation. To consider whether you might join them, contact Disarm Now Plowshares or support them through your prayers, financial aid, and letters.

Just a reminder about the scale of nuclear weapons we are talking about at this one nuclear base in Bangor, Washington. In November 2006, the Natural Resources Defense Council declared that the 2,364 nuclear warheads at Bangor are approximately 20 percent of the entire U.S. arsenal. The Bangor base houses more nuclear warheads than China, France, Israel, India, North Korea and Pakistan combined.

The base has been rebuilt for the deployment of the larger and more accurate Trident D-5 missile system. Each of the 24 D-5 missiles on a Trident submarine is capable of carrying eight of the larger 455 kiloton W-88 warheads (each warhead is about 30 times the explosive force as the Hiroshima bomb.)  The D-5 missile can also be armed with the 100 kiloton W-76 warhead.  The Trident fleet at Bangor deploys both the 455 kiloton W-88 warhead and the 100 kiloton W-76 warhead.

Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency admitted this week that the Fukushima disaster was a level 5, which is classified as a crisis causing “several deaths from radiation” due to “severe damage to reactor core and release of large quantities of radioactive material within an installation with a high probability of significant public exposure,” according to the UN International Atomic Energy Commission.

However, the U.S. and Europe have put the Japan nuclear crisis at Level 6: Serious impact on people and environment with significant release of radioactive material. Usually, when it reaches this level, governments begin classifying the research on how it affected civilian and environmental populations. So it’s not known how many deaths, birth defects, genetic damage, or long-term cancers were caused by previous Level 6 disasters.

Orthodox Christian Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew said recently, “Our Creator has given us the sun, wind, waves, from which energy can be extracted for our needs. An ecological science has the ability to invent tools for the production of renewable energy that is not harmful. Why, then, spread the use of energy production that is so dangerous to the integrity of the human race? Is it not an insult and a provocation of nature, which in turn then turns her back on human beings? From this our humble home, along with our prayers for the sorely tried people of the Land of the Rising Sun, we take the opportunity to make an appeal to States to reconsider their policy on nuclear energy.”

More on Christians and Nuclear Power
Faith and Power by UK’s Christian Ecology Link
Is Nuclear Power the Answer? by Jim Rice

Elderly Raid Nuke Site (God, It’s Hell Getting Old.)

Mark Rahner at the Seattle Times produced a great satirical video interview with 81-year-old Jesuit priest Bill Bichsel after Bichsel and four others (Susan Crane, 65; Lynne Greenwald, 60; Steve Kelly, S.J., 60; Anne Montgomery RSCJ, 83) , using bolt and wire cutters, broke into Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor to protest its storehouse of nuclear weapons. It’s not quite up to the standards of Stephen Colbert – but worth the watch!

Bichsel and the others were caught and faced charges of misdemeanor trespass and destruction of government property. They were scheduled to be arraigned Jan. 6 in U.S. District Court in Tacoma. The government has since asked that the charges be dismissed. Prosecutors and investigators say they need more time to determine whether felony charges are more appropriate, said Emily Langlie, the spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Seattle. Once that decision is made, then it’s likely charges will be refiled, she said.
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Susan Crane, one of the Disarm Now activist, said “Bix was disappointed that everything he said about international law, about love of enemy, and the reasons for our action was left out. But, we did get a laugh from the video!”

The Disarm Now Plowshares activists will continue to vigil at the gate of Naval Base Kitsap, and invite everyone to join them at the Martin Luther King celebration at the Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action, in Poulsbo, Washington, on Saturday, January 16, 2010. Find out more at www.gzcenter.org (That’s Ground Zero Center, not Geezer Central.)