OLYMPIA – Washington’s liberal capital city is considering a plan to declare itself a “nuclear-free zone.”
The designation, now being drafted for the City Council, would halt city purchases of police cars, cell phones and other supplies from all or most of an estimated 32 companies connected with nuclear weapons production.
Olympia is home to a politically active peace movement, with activists holding a vigil in the main town square once a week. Townspeople have complained about shipments of Iraq war supplies through its port and some critics have urged the USS Olympia, a nuclear-powered submarine, to stop calling on its namesake city.
In February, the council passed a resolution calling for a worldwide end to nuclear weapons by 2020. In May, Councilman TJ Johnson, sponsor of the nuclear-free ordinance, represented the city at an international conference at the United Nations on nuclear proliferation.
The resolution said Olympia should stop buying goods and services from companies directly linked to manufacture of nuclear weapons. City official Mary Lou Berg said that includes Chrysler, which builds police cars, and Motorola, which makes Nextel phones used by up to 400 city employees.
The city would seek new suppliers. If none were found, the city could continue doing business but would send the firm a letter encouraging a policy change.
“It hit me how prevalent the stuff is,” Johnson told the Olympian newspaper in an article published Tuesday. “It reinforced the logic that we have to start somewhere. We might as well start here.”
Another backer, Councilman Curt Pavola, said: “Consumers control the market. They can steer the market any way they want to.”
City Manager Steve Hall said tying the nuclear-free designation to the city’s business practices will send a message that it’s more than window dressing. But he added that it might be hard to “quit cold turkey all at once.”
The ordinance would ban shipment of nuclear weapons through the city or its port, but wouldn’t apply to nuclear medicine, smoke detectors, timepieces or depleted uranium.
Johnson said more than 1,200 cities and 100 countries are “nuclear-free.” Olympia’s ordinance is based on one adopted by Takoma Park, Md., that was approved 20 years ago and survived a legal challenge.
The measure will have a public hearing on Aug. 9 and would take effect 30 days after adoption.
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