84-Year-Old Pacifist Nun Sentenced to 3 Years in Prison after Exposing Lack of Security at Nuclear Weapons Site

Sunday, February 23, 2014
Sister Megan Rice

Three anti-nuclear protesters, including an elderly Roman Catholic nun, will spend multiple years in prison for breaching security at a key weapons facility previously known as the “Fort Knox of uranium.”


Sister Megan Rice, 84, and two other members of the group Transform Now Plowshares embarrassed the U.S. Department of Energy and its security contractor at the Y-12 Nuclear Complex in Tennessee two years ago.


The three activists managed to enter the top-security grounds and travel all the way to a key building that houses 400 metric tons of highly enriched uranium used in nuclear warheads.


Rice along with Michael Walli, then 64, and Greg Boertje-Obed, then 57, had enough time to paint slogans like “The fruit of justice is peace” and splash bottles of human blood on the bunker wall before private security guards arrived on the scene.


They were convicted last year on two felony counts: damaging government property and obstructing the national defense, a sabotage charge. But they were not sentenced until February 18, 2014.


Rice received a prison term of two years and eleven months, while Walli and Boertje-Obed each got five years and two months because of earlier protest-related arrests.


“Please have no leniency with me,” Rice told the judge prior to her sentencing. “To remain in prison for the rest of my life would be the greatest honor for me.”


U.S. District Judge Amul Thapar asked prosecutors before handing down the sentences what harm the activists caused at Y-12.


Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeff Theodore responded that the defendants “had destroyed the ‘mystique’ of the ‘Fort Knox of uranium.’”


The August 2012 break-in at the complex prompted multiple federal reviews of security procedures, including congressional hearings, a report by the Energy Department’s inspector general (IG), and an independent commission review.


In the wake of the embarrassing episode, the Energy Department set about to test security readiness at nuclear weapons sites across the country. At Y-12, the IG discovered, the security knowledge exam itself was compromised when personnel disseminated it, along with the answers, ahead of time.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Y-12 Protestors “Destroyed the Mystique” of Nuclear Security (by Lydia Dennett, Project On Government Oversight)

Nun, 84, Sentenced to Nearly 3 Years in Prison for Breaking into Nuclear Weapons Plant (Associated Press)

How the Obama Administration Charged 3 Pacifists with Violent Acts of Sabotage (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

The 82-Year-Old Nun Who Breached U.S. High-Security Nuclear Complex (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)


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