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Y-12 Protestors “Destroyed the Mystique” of Nuclear Security

Peace Activists

Michael R. Walli, Megan Rice and Greg Boertje-Obed, were arrested for breaking into the Y-12 Nuclear Facility in Oak Ridge, Tenn.

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The Transform Now Plowshares, a group led by nun Megan Rice which made headlines for breaking into the Y-12 Nuclear Complex to protest the production of nuclear weapons, was sentenced yesterday. Sister Megan Rice will spend two years and eleven months behind bars; her two fellow activists each got five years and two months due to their history of protest-related arrests.

In July 2012, then-82-year-old Sister Megan Rice; Michael Walli, a 64-year-old Vietnam veteran; and Greg Boertje-Obed, a 57-year-old house painter and longtime nuclear protestor exposed a troubling lack of security at the Y-12 site. The group easily made it undetected through the zone where deadly force is authorized, and managed to protest for several minutes right outside the building where approximately 400 metric tons of highly enriched uranium is stored before guards arrived at the scene.

Nine months after their break in, the members of Transform Now Plowshares were found guilty of two felony charges—damaging over $1,000-worth of government property, and obstructing the national defense, which is a “sabotage” charge and is considered a violent crime. Yesterday the activists were sentenced at a five-hour-long hearing. Although all three sentences were shorter than the government’s recommended sentencing range, they will each face years of jail time and three years of supervised probation when they are released.

Sister Megan Rice told the judge in her closing statement: “Please have no leniency with me. To remain in prison for the rest of my life would be the greatest honor for me.” Although we applaud her commitment to her mission, we agree with U.S. District Judge Amul Thapar that her efforts will be better served if she can continue to lead the charge here in Washington rather than from her jail cell, and we are pleased that she will be able to do so.

Judge Thapar carefully considered a punishment that would deter others from attempting such dangerous protests in the future, but was sympathetic to the intent behind the crime. He asked prosecutors to demonstrate how these activists actually caused harm. The best that Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeff Theodore could come up with was that they “had destroyed the ‘mystique’ of the ‘Fort Knox of uranium.’”

If the Department of Energy was relying mainly on mystique and reputation to protect dangerous nuclear material, it’s no wonder that an 82-year-old nun and two other activists were able to walk right in. These protestors may have destroyed that “mystique,” but they were also able to expose a very serious security threat without hurting anyone, and without significantly disrupting national security activities. Now Y-12 and the Energy Department claim they’ve renewed their focus on ensuring robust security for our nuclear weapons and material.

Multiple reviews of the incident, including congressional hearings, an Inspector General report, and an independent review commission, found that a lack of federal oversight allowed a series of security problems at Y-12 to cumulate. Furthermore, after the break-in, the Energy Department conducted security tests at nuclear weapons sites across the country, but almost immediately after the tests were completed the Department of Energy Inspector General found the Y-12 guard force had cheated.

As the Department of Energy continues to get its nuclear house in order, it is important to remember that these three protestors quietly and non-violently showed the Department exactly what needs to be fixed so that those who don’t have the country’s best interests at heart never get their chance.

Image from Transform Now Plowshares.

By: Lydia Dennett
Investigator, POGO

lydia dennett Lydia Dennett is an investigator for the Project On Government Oversight. Lydia handles whistleblower intake and works on nuclear safety and security at the U.S. nuclear weapons complex.

Topics: National Security

Related Content: Nuclear Weapons Complex Oversight, Y-12 /Oak Ridge National Lab, Nuclear Security

Authors: Lydia Dennett

Submitted by Doctor Possum at: February 24, 2014
Yep lets lock up those violent thugs and throw away the key. Give me a break they should have been given an award for demonstrating the lax security measures that where non existant.
Submitted by Azill at: February 24, 2014
Wonderful job! Great pic too!
Submitted by Felix at: February 24, 2014
Mystique? A better term would be, Myth. The myth of security surrounding "the building where approximately 400 metric tons of highly enriched uranium is stored." Myth: "...with Liberty and Justice for All."
Submitted by johnnyt54 at: February 23, 2014
An outrage across the board!
Submitted by My name is Vincent J. Patti. I have no use for nicknames. at: February 22, 2014
How damaging it is to continue to incarcerate our heroes: another silly and dangerous O'Busha dosado policy.
Submitted by busy angel at: February 22, 2014
Sister Megan Rice had the right idea when she told the judge keep me in prision for life . although I'msure she didn't mean it this way federal prision is a much better place to spend your old age where guards get paid over 50 thousand a year than a nursing home where the staff may make ten thousand $$
Submitted by Pancho at: February 22, 2014
So, these defendants are sentenced to a collective total of thirteen years and three months. At about $50,000 a year, that's about 2/3rds of a million bucks to keep these dangerous characters locked up. With the price of the trial it's surely over a million. That will teach them to paint grafitti!!!

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