JONESBOROUGH - A tent city is planned to spring up across the highway from Aerojet Ordnance in Jonesborough on May 18 to protest the manufacture of depleted uranium weapons in East Tennessee. The encampment is scheduled to stay in place through May 27.
It is part of a conference on depleted uranium, "DU - from Appalachia to Afghanistan to Iraq," set for May 19 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 102 Rogers-Stout Hall on the East Tennessee State University campus.
Speakers, to date, include Pentagon whistleblower Maj. Doug Rokke; Dr. Mohammad Daud Miraki, author of "Afghanistan After Democracy," and Cathy Garger, inspirational speaker and writer.
The event is organized by First Tennessee Progressives and the Sierra Club's National Radiation Committee. It is sponsored by the Christian Peacemaker Team DU Campaign, ETSU's Middle Eastern History Department and the Phi Alpha Honor Society.
The peaceful protest encampment, which is linked to the conference, is to draw attention to Aerojet Ordnance as being the Pentagon's largest supplier of DU penetrator weapons. Alliant Ballistic Laboratory in Rocket City, W.Va., is the other supplier.
According to Linda Modica, co-founder of East Tennessee Progressives, the explosion and fire caused by a DU penetrator, usually fired from the M1 Abrams tank, "creates a fire that burns at 3,000 degrees Celsius that breaks down dust and metal, including DU, into aerosol-like nano-particles. These are breathed in by anyone downwind who later drives or walks through the settled dust.
"Continued exposure increases the problem as our troops are sent back for repeated deployments and these deployments are extended," Modica said.
According to CPT, Aerojet employs about 120 people. Local officials referred calls to communication specialist Linda Cutler with parent GenCorp, but she declined to comment about any aspect of the company's business, saying "These are Army matters."
CPT states that "Aerojet employees are unable to speak to anyone about their job for fear of dismissal. Employees also work in a need to know environment. They know only about their own jobs, not what others in the plant are doing."
When the United States used DU-tipped bombs on Baghdad in March 2003, scientists detected a radioactive cloud over Britain shortly after, CPT said.
Britain's DU manufacturer and the British military has announced that it will no longer use DU weapons, and part of the goal of the conference is to discuss how a transformation to DU disarmament can be accomplished.
"I'm concerned about the indiscriminate effect beyond the battlefield," Modica said. "I only live three miles from the Aerojet Plant."
The conference has a $7 advance luncheon fee. To register, e-mail Modica at email@example.com.