Activists Sentenced for Y-12 Break-in

Timothy Farnsworth

Three peace activists who broke into the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee were sentenced Feb. 18 to prison terms of 35 months to 62 months.

In U.S. District Court in Knoxville, Megan Rice, an 84-year-old Catholic nun, received a sentence of two years and 11 months for her role in the break-in on July 28, 2012. The other two activists, 65-year-old Michael Walli of Washington and 58-year-old Gregory Boertje-Obed of Duluth, Minn., were each sentenced to five years and two months. All three were ordered by the court to pay $53,000 and will have three years of supervision after completing their prison time.

The three activists were convicted last May 8 on charges of trespassing, defacing government property, and sabotage. They had pleaded not guilty. According to a 2012 article in The Denver Post, the defense lawyers for the three protesters claimed that it was only after their clients rejected a guilty plea that the prosecutors decided to charge them with the sabotage count, increasing the maximum prison term from one year to 20 years.

According to news reports, the three activists, who call themselves “Transform Now Plowshares,” were able to breach the security fences, spill human blood, and paint biblical phrases on the facility that stores approximately 400 tons of highly enriched uranium. The protesters spent more than two hours behind the security fences before being arrested.

The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), part of the Energy Department, is in charge of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex, including the Y-12 facility. After the break-in, Energy Department Inspector General Gregory Friedman released a report outlining the security failures that allowed the break-in to happen, actions taken by the NNSA to improve security shortly after the break-in, and recommendations for further actions to better secure Y-12 and other facilities in the U.S. nuclear weapons complex.

The break-in triggered sharp criticism from Congress. At a Sept. 12, 2012, hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) said, “When an 82-year-old pacifist nun gets to the inner sanctum of our weapons complex, you cannot say, ‘Job well done.’” At the same hearing, Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman said, “The incident at Y-12 was unacceptable, and it served as an important wake-up call for our entire complex.”