Three activists, including an 82-year-old nun, have succeeded in closing temporarily the US government’s only facility for handling, processing and storing weapons-grade uranium.
With the “Nuns on the Bus” tour for social justice in full swing, it seems that social activism is defining a lot of nuns in the US. Excellent!
The facility at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, also known as “The Atomic City,” was shut down on Wednesday after at least three protesters, including 82-year-old Megan Rice, cut through perimeter fences to reach the outer wall of a building where highly enriched uranium, a key nuclear bomb component, is stored.
This is awesome news; the facility is enormous, seemingly impenetrable, and dominates the town of Oak Ridge. That anyone even had the idea to try and break in is inspiring.
Ironically, WSI Oak Ridge, the private contractor responsible for protecting the facility, is a subsidiary of the world’s biggest security firm G4S, which came up short by 3,500 of the 10,400 security guards it had guaranteed to provide at the Olympic Games in London.
Time for this security company to do some re-evaluating, maybe?
The activists, who called themselves Transform Now Plowshares, painted slogans and threw what they said was human blood on the wall of the facility, according to government officials.
Although the activists triggered security sensors they were still able to reach the building’s walls before WSI Oak Ridge staff intercepted them.
In a statement the three activists said they had passed through four fences and walked for “over two hours” before reaching the uranium storage building, on which they hung banners and crime-scene tape.
The activists’ spokeswoman, Ellen Barfield, said three were arrested and charged with vandalism and criminal trespass.
The three, identified as Megan Rice, 82, Michael Walli, 63, and Greg Boertje-Obed, 57, are being held in custody and appeared for a hearing on Thursday before a US magistrate judge in Knoxville, Tennessee.
A detention hearing was set for today, when prosecutors must show the defendants are a flight risk and a danger to the community in order to keep them in custody, according to court officials. The trial date is 9 October.
Not surprisingly, a spokeswoman for G4S declined to comment, but government officials said the contents of the facility were not compromised.
But somebody is going to get into big trouble for this security breach.
The security failure was an embarrassment both for the security firm and for the National Nuclear Security Administration, or NNSA, the Energy Department branch that operates U.S. nuclear weapons plants. “It was obviously a pretty serious incident,” NNSA spokesman Joshua McConaha told Reuters.
Peter Stockton, a former congressional investigator and security consultant to the Energy Department, expressed skepticism at government assertions the nuclear material was not at risk.
“It is unbelievable this could happen,” Stockton told Reuters. “The significance is outrageous. If they were terrorists, they could have blown open the door and got inside.”
I think we need to re-think our image of nuns!
Photo Credit: bsabarnowl