Nun Convicted, 83-Year-Old With Two Others Broke Into Oak Ridge Nuclear Weapons Facility

An 83-year-old nun convicted of sabotage and damaging federal property stood in a federal courtroom in Knoxville today shackled in leg irons and handcuffs. Sister Megan Rice, along with partners Michael Willi and Greg Boertje-Obed, were convicted Wednesday of breaking into a secure area of the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

Their attorneys argue that the three, who broke into the facility to protest the manufacture of nuclear weapons, represent no threat and should be freed on bond until their Sept. 23 sentencing. US District Judge Amul Thapar could rule on the motion as early as next week.

The three are members of a peace advocacy group, Transform Now Plowshares. A statement on their website said that despite the jury convicting the nun and her partners, the evidence proved that the Y-12 plant lacked effective security.

The New York Times agreed. Although she has over 40 arrests for anti-nuclear protests — and she was 82 years old at the time of the break-in — the Roman Catholic nun along with her male accomplices carried out what the NYT called “the biggest security breach in the history of the nation’s atomic complex.”

They successfully reached a supposedly secure area where the US keeps materials for building nuclear bombs.

Their weapons were flashlights and bolt cutters which somehow allowed them to elude the armed guards and electronic security system. They splashed blood and posted peace slogans in the brand new Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility.

The July break-in was a huge embarrassment for federal authorities. If you can’t keep nuclear material safe from 83-year-old nuns, then how are you going to defend against terrorists?

According to TNP, expert witness Col. Ann Wright argued that the three actually helped improve national security by drawing attention to the massive security failure at Y-12.

However, a conservative Tennesssee jury ultimately didn’t go for that argument.

And they probably didn’t respond well to at least one exchange between Sister Megan Rice and the prosecutor. According to TNP, when a government prosecutor asked her if she considered herself an American, she replied, “I believe I am a citizen of the world. Boundaries are arbitrary.”

The three could face several years in prison but Sister Megan Rice said she had no regrets. “I believe we are all equally responsible to stop a known crime,” she said. However, as a nun with no jobs and no grandchildren, she added that she felt especially free to join the protest.

No one is denying that this lady and her 57 and 63-year-old buddies broke into the Y-12 Oak Ridge nuclear facility. Honestly, though, I don’t know if I see any purpose to locking away the convicted nun and her partners. What’s your take?

[Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee photo by Elaine Radford]