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.