Anti-nuke activists march to Vt. Yankee

Demonstrators pray, leave paper cranes at closed plant

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Looking out over the Connecticut River, Huayra Forster sang of appreciation for the universal solvent.

"We must protect the water, 'cause water is life," she sang. She began clapping to the beat.

Forster, a 28-year-old Virginia resident, was among more than 15 participants in the Brattleboro leg of Walk for a Nuclear Free Future, organized by activists from the Grafton Peace Pagoda in New York. The walkers set off from the Brattleboro Food Co-op just after 10:30 a.m. Sunday for a 3 -mile trek to the former Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon.

As they walked down Route 142, they chanted prayers for peace and banged on hand drums. They paused briefly to hear Forster's song as cars whizzed by.

Walkers say that although the area's nuclear power plant has closed — the first tower came down July 11 — they are unhappy about radioactive waste still being stored on the banks of the river.

"We have to not only take care of our bodies by nourishing ourselves with the two percent available potable drinkable water, but we also have to protect the oceans that feed us," Forster said.

Organizer Jun Yasuda, a Buddhist nun with the Grafton Peace Pagoda, said even after a nuclear plant shuts down, radioactive waste remains a threat to public health.

She recalled the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident in 2011, when an earthquake and tsunami hit the plant in Okuma, Japan. She is originally from Tokyo and said she visits her home country every year.

"I have many friends from Fukushima and they are still suffering," she said. "Nobody welcomes radiation waste."

Anthony Iarrapino, a Montpelier lawyer who is handling press for NorthStar, said the company declined comment on Sunday's demonstration. NorthStar purchased Vermont Yankee from Entergy Nuclear this year.

Yasuda said the week-long Walk for a Nuclear Free Future is a protest against nuclear weapons, such as those used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

The first action was a July 27 walk from Lexington, Mass., to nearby Hanscom Air Force Base, according to a flyer for the event. The walk that left from Brattleboro was the second action. Today, walkers are going from Manchester to West Arlington. The rest of the scheduled walks are in New York. At the Grafton Peace Pagoda Saturday, there will be a ceremony to mark 74 years since the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Walkers in Brattleboro Sunday hailed from various places, including New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Virginia and California. Local participants were Daniel Sicken from Putney and Buddhist monk Towbee Keyes from the peace pagoda in Leverett, Mass.

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Sicken, 77, said he has participated in around 10 walks to the site of Vermont Yankee since moving to the area in 1979.

"It's a great way to connect all the issues around nuclearism," he said.

Rose McPartland, of Bergenfield, N.J., said she was in Brattleboro to follow the lead of her 80-year-old father, Jules Orkin, who walked a few steps ahead of her.

"I'd tease him as a kid because he didn't get me the things I wanted, but he gave me the best things in life," said McPartland, 54.

Orkin said he has been walking for causes related to poverty, militarism, the environment and racism for 16 years. On Sunday, he wore a blue T-shirt with empty checkboxes next to the words "White," "Black," "Hispanic" and "Asian" in white text. At the bottom, in red, was a checkmark in a box next to the word "Human."

McPartland said she has been walking with her father for three or four years.

"Follow your elders. They know what they're doing," she said.

But with a smile, she added, "I do believe the youth is the future."

The youngest walker was Simon Schmitt, 8, there with his mother, Jennifer Schmitt, from Sand Lake, New York. Schmitt said this was her son's second walk for a peace-related cause.

When the walkers reached the closed nuclear plant, they sat on the grass at the end of Vermont Yankee Drive, where they continued to chant and beat their drums. Guards stood at the entrance to the plant, calmly directing demonstrators and media away from the asphalt area in front of the gate. Walkers took turns going to the end of the green and saying a prayer. Some left origami cranes, a symbol for healing, on a light fixture. The cranes were folded by Miki Fukui, who is originally from Japan but now lives in the Bronx.

According to Japanese tradition, anyone who folds 1,000 paper cranes will be granted a wish. The legend was popularized through the story of Sadako Sasaki, a Japanese girl who tried to fold 1,000 paper cranes before she died of leukemia in 1955. Her illness was attributed to radiation exposure from the bombing of Hiroshima.

Peace pagodas are associated with Buddhism, but McPartland, who identifies as Catholic, said the causes behind the walk are not tied to religion.

"If we were all just a little nicer and kinder, we could work through things nonviolently," she said. "It's not about religion for me. It's about a nuclear-free world."


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