Monks lead Interfaith Peace Walk to Hanford nuclear reservation

Baby boomer Gene Weisskopf of Richland said he was too old to expect miracles Wednesday.

But as he set off behind two Buddhist monks draped in saffron cloths on a seven-mile walk through Richland to the 300 Area gate of Hanford, he said he believed the annual Interfaith Peace Walk had the potential for good.

Maybe the people who saw the trail of walkers, the purple banner flying and heard the drums beating and the chanted prayers "will be reminded the threat of nuclear weapons is still with us," he said.

This is the sixth year since 2005 that two monks from the Nipponzan Myohiji Buddhist Temple on Bainbridge Island have visited Richland to lead a peace walk for the abolition of nuclear weapons just before the anniversary of the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, on Aug. 9, 1945.

Plutonium for the bomb, the second atomic bomb dropped on Japan in World War II, was produced at the Hanford nuclear reservation.

Twenty people gathered in John Dam Plaza for a brief opening ceremony of prayer, poems and song, from John Lennon's Give Peace a Chance to an African American spiritual.

"Nobody knows the trouble I've seen. Nobody knows but Jesus ...," sang Senji Kanaeda, a Buddhist monk born in Japan.

"The interfaith aspect is very important, because if we don't have peace among religions, we're never going to have peace in the world," said Jim Stoffels of Richland, chairman of World Citizens for Peace.

The walk coincided with the 30th anniversary of World Citizens for Peace. The group was formed in the Tri-Cities when President Ronald Reagan wanted to put Hanford's N Reactor and PUREX back to work producing weapons-grade plutonium, generating more high level radioactive and chemical waste to be stored in Hanford's underground tanks, Stoffels said.

"We have a duty to leave a clean, safe Earth, air and water to our children," Kanaeda said.

Since the monks led their first Interfaith Peace Walk to the Hanford 300 Area, hundreds of buildings have been razed, Stoffels said.

"Unfortunately, the shutdown and destruction of Hanford plutonium-production facilities has not put an end to U.S. production of nuclear weapons," Stoffels said.

President Obama has made a commitment to spend $85 billion during a decade to build a new "nuclear bombplex" in New Mexico, Tennessee and Missouri, he said.

"So, we still have a long road ahead of us," he said. But every step on the walk to Hanford on Wednesday brings closer the goal of a world without nuclear weapons, he said.

-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com