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Protesters Arrested at Nuke-Parts Plant in Kansas City

by Jane Stoever and Ann Suellentrop

The National Nuclear Security Administration's Kansas City Plant, managed by Honeywell to help make nuclear weapons, became the scene of civil disobedience for the first time June 18. Four people were arrested when they blocked the employees' entrance to the plant, while about 35 supporters blocked the plant's front driveway. 

Crosses were planted along the highway and chalk bodies colored the sidewalks. A huge sheet-turned-banner told the story of death and destruction related to the plant. More than a dozen vehicles from NNSA, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Kansas City Police came to the scene, and a police helicopter hovered overhead.

"We want to shut down the plant and clean up the contamination," protester Jane Stoever explained to a guard for the NNSA. "And we want to stop them from repeating the same mistakes by building a new plant." The plant makes and procures 85 percent of the contents of U.S. nuclear warheads, including the firing sets, aiming devices and casings that carry fissile materials.  

On June 14, the NNSA and Kansas City signed a $1.2 billion dollar lease agreement for a new south Kansas City "campus" for the complex's nuclear weapons plant. Local financial agent Oppenheimer & Co. Inc. received the go-ahead to offer bonds worth up to $815 million for building the new plant. This bond authorization is the outgrowth of a convoluted privatization scheme whereby the city will own title to a federal nuclear weapons facility. The plan includes a decision by the city's Planned Industrial Expansion Authority (PIEA) to declare a soybean field "blighted" in order to use "urban blight funds" (desperately needed in midtown Kansas City) to build a nuclear weapons plant. The upshot: The PIEA recommended and the City Council approved a $45 million tax cut for the new plant in the same year as the city is closing almost half its schools in a reorganization move. The new NNSA project is part of a larger development plan for an Intermodal Center at the former Richards Gebaur Air Force base by real estate developer CenterPoint Zimmer.

"The new bomb plant will make millions of dollars for a few, get the workers sick, pollute the land and build weapons of mass destruction; meanwhile, our school are crumbling and being closed," said Ann Suellentrop of Kansas City, Kan., nurse and lead organizer for opposition to the current and new Kansas City Plant. "You can't build nuclear weapons and not get sick."

Several federal agencies are now investigating contaminants at the current plant. The local NBC affiliate lists about 350 persons who have reported serious illnesses from working at the plant, plus about 30 persons whose families say they died from illnesses caused by toxins at the plant.

The protesters chanted slogans such as "City Council, shame on you, building bombs, not funding schools" and "DOE, stop the lies before more workers get sick and die."

The four persons arrested were Frank Cordaro of Des Moines, Iowa; Ronald Faust of Gladstone, Mo.; Steve Jacobs of Columbia, Mo.; and Jane Stoever of Overland Park, Kan. They received citations for a "disturbance to wit: impedes or disrupts the performance of official duties of a government employee." They must pay $125 or appear at the U.S. Courthouse in Kansas City on Aug. 6, the 65th anniversary of the U.S. nuclear bomb attack on Hiroshima.

Homeland Security officers released the four in about an hour. Then a dozen of the protesters went to the Oppenheimer office, asking to meet with those working on the bond project to learn more about the 14 thus-far-unidentified investors. Oppenheimer staff refused to meet with the protesters and threatened to have them arrested, but ultimately promised to meet with the group if they set up a meeting later.

Sponsors of the protest were PeaceWorks-KC (peaceworkskc@earthlink.net), Physicians for Social Responsibility-KC (kcnukeswatch.wordpress.com), and East Meets West of Troost (eastmeetswestoftroost.ws).

Authors Ann Suellentrop (annsuellen@gmail.com) and Jane Stoever (janepstoever@yahoo.com), both from the wider metropolitan area of Kansas City, Mo., helped coordinate the protest and participated in it.

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