Nuclear facilities securityY-12 security breach update: Old nun awaits sentencing while costs of new Y-12 facility not to be released until 2015

By Robert Lee Maril

Published 5 December 2013

On 28 July 2012, three senior citizens, led by an 83-year old nun, easily breached the supposedly impregnable security systems protecting the Y-12 National Security Complex at Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The three peace activists wondered the grounds of the maximum security facility for a while before being noticed by security personnel. While the three aging protesters are awaiting sentencing, the two companies — Bechtel Corporation and Babcock and Wilcox – which were responsible for designing and implementing security at Y-12, have been named as the primary construction contractors for planning and design of the new uranium processing facility (UPF) to be built at Y-12.

Sister Megan Rice, Michael R. Walli, and Greg Boertje-Obed await sentencing on their conviction of felony charges for the destruction of the premises of a federal property vital to national defense and for damage to federal property in excess of $1,000. The three defendants breached security at the Y-12 National Security Complex at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, on 28 July 2012. 

Long-time peace activist Rice, a member of the Catholic order Holy Child of Jesus  is now 83 years of age, while Walli, 64, is a gardener by profession, and Boertie-Obed, 58, is a house painter. All are members of the anti-nuclear protest movement Transform Plowshares Now.

These three senior citizens broke into “…the most stringent security system in the world” protecting the Y-12 facility. Scientists and technicians at Y-12 produce and warehouse the materials for our arsenal of nuclear weapons. The defendants reached the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility (HEUMF) at Y-12 after going undetected by the majority of the perimeter surveillance equipment, including four fences, sophisticated cameras, and ground sensors as well as security guards and canine patrols. HEUMF manufactures and stores hundreds of tons of enriched uranium. The three senior citizens raised banners at HEUMF bearing biblical sayings and also threw blood on the walls of the building.

Based upon the charges, sentencing could bring up to thirty years of prison time for each of the defendants. Sentencing is now set for 28 January 2014, in Knoxville.

A subsequent Department of Energy special report  on the breach at Y-12 cited inoperable security equipment, an inadequate security force, no timetables for the maintenance of security equipment, and lack of physical barriers as major reasons why the security was successfully penetrated three peace activists. Prior government reports, including one by the Government Accountability Office  emphasized there had been more than ten years of serious security and safety problems at various sites managed by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) including Y-12.