Oak Ridge Protest: 83-Year-Old Nun Faces Charges For Breaking Into Nuclear Facility


Daughter of peace advocates, 83-year-old Catholic Sister Megan Rice has been incarcerated many times, and now faces felony charges again in her pursuit of peace and social justice. Last July, she and two other peace activists, Michael Walli and Greg Boertje-Obed, broke into B&W Y-12 (Oak Ridge, Tennessee), theoretically the most secure nuclear facility in the nation. The trio slipped through an estimated $500 million in alarms and security cameras, and were able to paint peace slogans, hang crime scene tape, and say prayers for approximately two hours before a lone guard finally noticed them and put a halt to their protest.

So far, nobody knows very much about the appalling lapse in security that enabled an elderly nun and two AARP-aged co-conspirators to have a lengthy peace ceremony and protest inside the facility that contains the biggest stockpile of fissionable nuclear material in the world.

Profiles of Sr. Rice have appeared in the New York Times and The Tennessean. Her many years of anti-nuclear and peace activism are well-known enough that the Department of Energy paid for a history of Rice's family and political activism in order to shed light on her commitment to the peace movement.

Michael Walli, one of the other protestors, told The Tennessean that they thought God had intervened when the trio was so easily able to break in and avoid detection during their protest. The group was well aware of the dangers they faced.

Walli said in an interview with The Tennessean, "we knew it was a lethal force zone and conducted our missionary work with the knowledge that we could potentially die."

Sr. Rice has told reporters that more money is spent on the U.S. nuclear program than on education, social welfare, and many other necessary services. This is not true; however, the security system at the facility she broke into is estimated to have cost $500 million. The company that provided security services there, and for other U.S. nuclear facilities and programs was WSI-Oak Ridge. Three weeks ago, they were replaced by another private firm, National Strategic Protective Services LLC. The five-year contract is for more than $182 million.

Someone does keep track of all of these incidents, an organization you have probably never heard of: the Project on Government Oversight (POGO). In case you thought this was an isolated incident the government has learned from, POGO just reported that a former Target (as in the department stores) manager has been appointed to head the office responsible for national nuclear security.

The moral of this story should be obvious. We should all already know that peace-loving nuns are trustworthier and can get a lot more done for a lot less money than any government employee. POGO is the organization that brought us the $436 Department of Defense hammer in 1981, and they have continued to work to reveal waste, fraud and incompetence since that time.

In addition, if you care about social justice, you will take action to protest the prosecutions of Sister Megan Rice, Michael Walli and Greg Boertje-Obed. Much as federal prosecutors hounded Aaron Swartz to his death, so are Rice, Walli and Boertje-Obed being hounded by people who should themselves be prosecuted for criminal waste and fraud. Not only did the activists mean no harm, they were trying to spread the cause of peace. It is not their fault they were so easily able to carry out their mission.