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The Federal Govt. Wants the Nuclear Industry to Be One Big Secret

In the case of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, the U.S. government wants to keep the production of nuclear bombs and their components away from public scrutiny.

Photo Credit: Sergey Kamshylin


The city of Oak Ridge, Tennessee and its neighbor Knoxville, are government towns.  Oak Ridge has been called “the closed city,” reminiscent of government cities in the old Soviet Union that were closed to the public because of sensitive weapons production and other activities Soviets wanted to keep from prying eyes.  In the case of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, the U.S. government wants to keep the production of nuclear bombs and their components away from public scrutiny.

Oak Ridge is a tough place to challenge the biggest employer in the area, a southern town where dissent is abnormal and prejudices of all sorts run deep in the culture and heritage.

Nine months ago, on July 28, 2012, three persons,  with the snip of four fences found themselves in the Oak Ridge nuclear weapons complex beside the most sensitive and dangerous of all buildings in the nuclear weapons program of the United States--the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility (HEUMF)

Sister Megan Rice, an 83 year old nun from in Washington, D.C, Michael Walli, a 63 year old veteran with two tours in Vietnam and now a “missionary” for the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker house in Washington, D.C and Greg Boertje-Obed, 57, a Vietnam era  Army medical officer and now a Minnesota house painter  were arrested and charged with harming the national defense and causing more than $1000 damage to a government facility.  

The defendants had no thoughts of asking for a venue in any other place; this company town is where exposure to different ideas about nuclear weapons should happen, they believed.

There were 70 prospective jurors called for jury duty. Most had government backgrounds, family members or friends who had worked for the government. Only 3 had ever been to any type of protest, march or demonstration on any issue. 

Despite nodding affirmatively that she/he would be able to vote not-guilty if the government did not present evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that the elements of the charges had been met, one would hazard an opinion that each juror knew that crosses would be burned in their yards, children would be shunned at school and they would be stigmatized for the rest of their lives for voting not to convict the defendants, those challenging the nuclear weapons of their city and our country.

So, the three defendants went on trial for harming the United States national defense and causing physical damage to a defense facility in excess of $1000.  There was no charge of trespass.

In the early morning of July 28, 2012, the three defendants prayed in a church parking lot, walked a few hundred yards to a perimeter fence of the Y12 complex, carefully snipped the boundary fence to the Y-12 National Nuclear Security Complex at Oak Ridge, Tennessee.  No alarm sounded, not patrol arrived to check on possible intruders.

Finding no security to stop them, three decided to walk ahead and slowly climbed up a hill in switchbacks as the 82 year old nun had a heart condition and could not walk for long distances. After frequent stops, the group finally emerged at the top of the hill, along the Oak Ridge line and looked down on America’s most dangerous nuclear facility.  Since no patrol had come to stop them, they kept moving down the hill toward the complex in the valley, called by the “spirit,” they later said.

Soon they encountered three more fences and with the bolt cutters they carried, they cut through the first fence-no alarms, no sensors, sounded.  No patrols arrived, so they cut through the next fence and then the final fence.  They found themselves at the base of a fortress like building. Taking from their backpacks cans of spray paint, they sprayed some of the walls with biblical sayings “the fruit of justice is peace.”  They hung a banner on the last fence that read “Transform now”. They took their hammers and knocked a small chunk of concrete out of the wall and took out baby bottles filled with the blood of a priest who,  before he died asked that some of his blood be poured on a nuclear facility to symbolize the blood of those killed by U.S. nuclear weapons during World War II and the testing of nuclear weapons afterwards.