In July of 2012, an elderly nun and two peace activists were arrested after cutting fences to get onto the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn.
Y-12 is the primary U.S. site for processing and storing enriched uranium for nuclear bombs; the protestors made it into the most secure part of the complex
With the help of Michael Walli, 65, and Greg Boertje-Obed, 58, Sister Megan Rice, 84, cut through three fences to spray paint peace slogans and hammer off a small chunk of the $548 million storage bunker’s walls.
The trio also splashed baby bottles of human blood on the walls of the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility (HEUMF), which has been referred to as the “Fort Knox of uranium”.
“The reason for the baby bottles was to represent that the blood of children is spilled by these weapons,” Boertje-Obed said at trial.
According to prosecutors, the break-in “disrupted operations, endangered U.S. national security, and caused physical damage.”
The break-in also raised serious questions about security at Y-12; after the incident, the complex had to be shut down, security forces were re-trained, and contractors were replaced.
Although the protestors set off alarms, more than two hours passed before they were caught. When a guard confronted them, the trio offered him and food and started singing.
On May 8, the activists were found guilty of sabotaging the plant and damaging federal property. Since then, the activists have received more than 2,000 cards and letters of support from around the world.
The sentencing hearing began on January 28, but was delayed by a snowstorm. At that hearing, U.S. District Judge Amul Thapar ordered the protestors to pay $52,953 to cover the cost of repairs to the nuclear facility.
In a ruling on Tuesday, Rice was ordered to spend 35 months in prison, while each of her co-defendants has been sentenced to 62 months in prison. Both Walli and Boertje-Obed had much longer criminal histories of mostly non-violent civil disobedience than Rice did, which accounts, in part, for their harsher sentences.
The judge expressed concern over the fact that the demonstrators showed no remorse. He also openly displayed his skepticism that the protestors had caused any real harm.
In addition to his/her jail sentence, each activist will also be required to spend three years on supervised release.
Rice has been a nun since she was 18 years old, and is a sister in the Society of the Holy Child Jesus. She spent 40 years working as a missionary teaching science in western Africa.
“Please have no leniency with me,” she said in her closing statements on Tuesday. “To remain in prison for the rest of my life would be the greatest gift you could give me.”
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