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Legal fight over nation's newest nukes plant intensifies

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The legal battle over the construction of a major new nuclear weapons facility here intensified Monday, with lawyers for the plant’s backers intervening to slow down possible issuance of a court order forcing a city-wide vote on the plant’s construction.

The intervention, which saw some ten attorneys for the plant’s operator and construction company present a bevy of new documents to Circuit Court Judge Edith Messina, was the latest in a years-long local struggle over what is set to be the nation's first new nuclear weapons plant in 33 years.

Activists say an arrangement between the city and the federal government, which, in a first for a nuclear weapons facility, gives title to the facility to a state agency, means the city has the power to prohibit nuclear weapons production there.

They presented a petition before the city government in May asking for a city-wide vote that, if passed, could compel the operator of the new site to cease nuclear work in favor of green energy production. With over 4,000 signatures in support of their initiative, its backers say the city is required to place it on a ballot, as the city charter mandates any petition with over 3,572 signatures go before voters.

The city council disagreed Aug. 25, saying that while activists’ petition may have enough signatures, it "conflicts with the constitutional power of the federal government to provide for the national defense."

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Activists responded the next day with a filing asking the county circuit court to force the city to place their measure on a Nov. 8 ballot.

After a brief meeting in chambers with lawyers for both sides Monday, Messina rescheduled a hearing on the activists’ filing for tomorrow. She also said that while Aug. 30 would normally be the deadline for approval of ballot initiatives, Sep. 27 is the deadline for those with a court order -- meaning there would be time for appeal by either side of her decision on the matter.

Despite the questions surrounding the status of the petition, an email sent by one of its main backers Sunday remained hopeful.

Whether or not their petition makes it on the ballot, Rachel MacNair wrote, activists have to remember that the “long-term goal is to rid the world of nuclear weapons entirely.”

While those who want the initiative kept off the ballot are engaging in “power politics,” MacNair continues, the activists are “working under the rules of a social movement.”

“Our current goal is to raise awareness, educate the public, and make it absolutely clear that plant is controversial -- in the expectation that good (but unpredictable) events will arise from that,” she writes.

“We win. No matter what happens, we win. And history shows that it's the social movements for justice that prevail in the end, and are more enduring that anyone playing power politics would even be capable of.”

Rachel MacNair’s full statement follows.

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A…reporter asked me a sensible question, and seemed rather pleased with my answer: What will we do if we don't get on the ballot? Answer: We'll continue to raise awareness, educate the public, and make absolutely clear that this plant is controversial.

But I'd say that's essentially our short-term goal whether we get on the ballot or not. Getting on the ballot gives us more opportunities, but that's we'll do either way. The long-term goal is to rid the world of nuclear weapons entirely, and we never expected one city election, no matter how well it goes, to achieve that -- only to contribute to it, along with thousands of other things also being done.

We also have an intermediate goal of seeing to it that the nuclear weapons that do exist are never used to deliberately kill large numbers of people, a goal we have succeeded at since 1945 (see documentation in the book Confronting the Bomb). What we're doing now contributes to that crucial goal as well -- ballot or no ballot.

Remember that those involved in building the plant are playing power politics. It's what they know how to do. And under those rules, we "lose" -- because even if we get on the ballot and win the election, we know very well that the City Council will overturn it (unless they decide to allow the courts to do it instead).

Fortunately, we're not playing under those rules. We're working under the rules of a social movement. Our current goal is to raise awareness, educate the public, and make it absolutely clear that plant is controversial -- in the expectation that good (but unpredictable) events will arise from that. And also to send a crucial message in a timely way to D.C. decision-makers who are trying to find ways to cut the deficit.

We win. No matter what happens, we win. And history shows that it's the social movements for justice that prevail in the end, and are more enduring that anyone playing power politics would even be capable of.
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