A Meaningful Conversation: ‘The Devil is in the Details’

by Allison Hargus, creator/writer

When I first made the phone call to Ralph Hutchison, coordinator of Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance (OREPA), I sat anxiously as the phone rang with well-thought questions in hand. The time came to ask an important player in nuclear non-proliferation the questions percolating in my mind since the beginning of my internship with NIRS.

During World War II, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, became the staging area for the development of the materials for the Manhattan Project. These fissile materials were created in the Uranium Enrichment Facility known as Y-12. The facility began operation in 1943 and produced the uranium used in Little Boy, the bomb that the United States would drop on Hiroshima, Japan. Later, in 1945, Oak Ridge became home to another facility, known as K-25, that specialized in gaseous diffusion.

Hutchison works with OREPA to promote nuclear non-proliferation through nonviolent actions such as grassroots organizing, public workshops, civil resistance actions, and speaking at public hearings. So when Hutchison and I finally made contact, my eagerness to hear his pearls of wisdom steered the conversation.

I wanted to know if this idea of restorative justice- an idea taken from criminal justice that deals with offenses in a very communitive way- could be applied to nuclear non-proliferation. The first question I asked dealt with the reception of government entities during these current dialogues.

His answer: “Everybody thinks nuclear non-proliferation is a good thing.”

The problem: The actions do not back up what these officials are saying. According to Hutchison, these conversations seem to end in agreement, but there is no financial backing going into these efforts to abolish nuclear weapons.

The next step: Hutchison holds the opinion that if the United States could simply admit that they are part of the problem, they could then become part of the solution. The United States is concerned with non-proliferation overseas in dissident countries, but there is no attention to these issues domestically. Hutchison refers to this as the U.S. focusing on the “horizontal” spread of these weapons; fighting against other countries trying to develop these dangerous nuclear capabilities. The “vertical” spread refers to the domestic increase of nuclear weapons arsenals in the superpower countries. Hutchison argues that the Nuclear Weapons States should honor their agreement so that we can take meaningful steps in the disarmament of these arsenals. He also states that when we propose to constantly modernize these weapons, we lose our credibility. In turn, this makes it difficult to carry on a meaningful non-proliferation dialogue with our global community. “We have a double standard when it comes to nuclear weapons,” he said.

In order to achieve these long-term goals, OREPA orchestrates multiple efforts. Currently, there is a proposed plan to invest $325 million into the Y-12 plant in Oak Ridge. An overwhelming percent of OREPA’s energy goes into the prevention of this construction: “We have been successful so far in stopping the new bomb plan; it’s been the main focus of work. When we first began to talk about it nobody else paid attention to those things. Our first goal was to educate our colleagues about this, persuade them that this was important. We spent a couple of years getting people on board with it… We’ve had so much success that they’ve had to take a step back and regroup.”

Their efforts continue to halt these plans. For more information on the resistance to the newly proposed Uranium Processing Facility, follow this link.

Hutchison says they all have a shared stance on the construction of nuclear weapons: “If you can build a safe one…”

Later in the conversation, I brought up the idea of restorative justice becoming a venue for nuclear non-proliferation. Thoughtfully, he said, “I think it’s really useful to think outside the box. The vehicles we have used for the past 40 years have not been terribly effective,” he then added, “The devil is in the details.”

Indeed, the devil will be in trying to get all of these ideas and thoughts into action. But, as Hutchison suggested earlier in the conversation, the next best step the United States can take is admitting their contribution to the current situation.

This reflects the first step that many perpetrators must face in examples of restorative justice. They must face their community and admit to all of the crimes they have committed in hopes of restoring what was lost. The community and perpetrator can then sit down and participate in the problem-solving step together.

To get involved with OREPA, visit their website: Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance