Nun faces up to 30 years for break­ing into weapons com­plex


On the out­skirts of Knoxville, Ten­nessee, is the Y-12 Na­tional Se­cu­rity Com­plex, Amer­ica’s “Fort Knox” of weapons-grade ura­nium, which Sis­ter Me­gan Rice, breached with just a ham­mer and bolt cut­ters.

On July 28, 2012, 83-yearold Sis­ter Rice and two fel­low anti-war ac­tivists bush­whacked up to the edge of Y-12, cut through three sep­a­rate se­cu­rity fences, and sprayed peace slo­gans and hu­man blood on the wall of a build­ing that is said to hold enough weapons-grade ura­nium to oblit­er­ate hu­man civil­i­sa­tion sev­eral times over.

“The se­cu­rity breach,” as the Depart­ment of En­ergy’s In­spec­tor Gen­eral later de­scribed it, ex­posed “trou­bling dis­plays of in­ep­ti­tude” at what is sup­posed to be “one of the most se­cure fa­cil­i­ties in the United States.”

At a Fe­bru­ary hear­ing of the House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee, mul­ti­ple mem­bers of Congress thanked Rice for ex­pos­ing the site’s gap­ing vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties. Eleven launch of­fi­cers were tar­geted in a sep­a­rate in­ves­ti­ga­tion of il­le­gal drug use. But that didn’t de­ter fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors from throw­ing the book at Rice and her ac­com­plices: Greg Bo­ertje-Obed, a 57-year-old car­pen­ter, and Michael Walli, a 63-year-old Viet­nam vet­eran. They now sit in Ge­or­gia’s Ir­win County De­ten­tion Cen­ter, await­ing a Jan­uary 28 sen­tenc­ing hear­ing where a fed­eral judge could put them in prison for up to 30 years.

In May, the three ac­tivists were con­victed of will­fully dam­ag­ing fed­eral prop­erty and, more se­ri­ously, sab­o­tag­ing na­tional de­fence ma­te­rial—a charge that pre­cludes them from be­ing re­leased on bail. It was the lat­est in a string of heavy-handed crack­downs on ac­tivists who’ve dared to en­gage in vi­tal acts of civil dis­obe­di­ence.

Rice broke into the com­plex to bring at­ten­tion to what she sees as its un­law­ful pro­duc­tion of nu­clear weapons. The Treaty on the Non­pro­lif­er­a­tion of Nu­clear Weapons, signed by the United States in 1969, com­mits na­tions to “pur­sue ne­go­ti­a­tions in good faith on ef­fec­tive mea­sures re­lat­ing to ces­sa­tion of the nu­clear arms race at an early date and to nu­clear dis­ar­ma­ment.” Yet rather than phas­ing out nukes, the United States is re­fur­bish­ing them at Y-12 and build­ing a new $19-bil­lion nu­clear weapons pro­duc­tion plant ad­ja­cent to the ura­nium fa­cil­ity.

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