NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A federal grand jury toughened the charges against three anti-war protesters who authorities say cut their way through three security fences and spray-painted slogans on the walls of a nuclear weapons plant in Tennessee.
An indictment released Thursday in Knoxville charges an 82-year-old Roman Catholic nun with Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus, a gardener and a housepainter with “depredation” of the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge. The charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
The indictment against Megan Rice of Las Vegas, Michael Walli of Washington and Greg Boertje-Obed of Duluth, Minn., includes two charges announced previously: trespassing, a misdemeanor, and malicious destruction of property, a felony.
The sprawling Y-12 complex of 800 acres and 500 buildings stores the nation’s supply of weapons-grade uranium, makes nuclear warhead parts and provides nuclear fuel for the Navy and research reactors worldwide.
According to an affidavit filed with the court, the protesters walked nearly a half-mile into the high-security property before dawn on July 28, past signs warning that deadly force could be used on intruders. They made it to a building called the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility, where the uranium is stored.
On the way, federal court documents say, the three used bolt cutters to clear three security fences and set off many alarms.
They painted the exterior of the building with the phrases “woe to the empire of blood” and “the fruit of justice is peace” and sprayed it with blood, according to an investigator’s affidavit.
“We come to the Y-12 facility because our very humanity rejects the designs of nuclearism, empire and war,” a letter found at the site and signed by the three defendants read. “Our faith in love and nonviolence encourages us to believe that our activity here is necessary.”
The Department of Energy, which oversees the site, has not responded to messages seeking comment on the new charge or about security procedures at Y-12.
The Y-12 website says the facility’s main mission is “to ensure the U.S. nuclear arsenal is safe, secure, and reliable.”
“Portions of every weapon in the U.S. nuclear stockpile were manufactured at Y-12, and we employ only the most advanced and failsafe technologies to protect the stockpile,” according to the site.
Since the intrusion, the contractors that operate Y-12 for the government have added security training and replaced the top security managers.
Oak Ridge was created as a secret city in World War II to house Y-12 and other plants that enriched uranium for the first nuclear bomb used in war. The Y-12 complex has been the annual target of peace protests tied to the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. Every year since 1998, a few protesters have provoked arrest by blocking the road leading into the site or by stepping across a blue line that marks the property boundary.
Walli was arrested two years ago for trespassing at Y-12 and sentenced to eight months in federal prison, according to news reports.
Because of the new indictment, a court hearing scheduled for Thursday was canceled.
The three defendants have pleaded not guilty, and Rice and Walli have been released pending the Oct. 10 trial. Boertje-Obed, who is representing himself, was still in custody and couldn’t be reached for comment.
An attorney for Rice didn’t return calls seeking comment and Walli’s defense lawyer declined to comment, citing court rules.
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