The Washington Post

Judge orders restitution in Oak Ridge peace activist break-in, but postpones sentencing

The three peace activists who breached the Y-12 complex housing bomb-grade uranium on July 28, 2012. From left, Michael Walli, Catholic nun Megan Rice and Greg Boertje-Obed. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)

A federal judge has ordered a Catholic nun, a Vietnam veteran and a house painter from Duluth, Minn., to pay full restitution of $53,000 for damaging one of the nation’s most secure sites for nuclear weapons production. The three were convicted of sabotage last year for breaking into the facility and were facing sentencing Tuesday.

Falling snow, however, caused U.S. District Court Judge Amul Thapar to suspend the hearing until Feb. 18. The government had asked for the three to be given terms of five to nine years.

He ordered Michael Walli, who has been based for years at the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker house in Washington, and fellow peace activists Sister Megan Rice and Gregory Boertje-Obed back to jail until the hearing can continue.

In the predawn hours of July 28, 2012, the trio cut through four fences at the Y-12 National Security Complex in nearby Oak Ridge, Tenn., where the fuel for the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, was produced during the Manhattan Project.

Having essentially circumvented a glitch-ridden security apparatus that cost $150 million a year, they splashed blood and spray-painted biblical messages on the exterior of the building that warehouses an estimated 400 tons of highly enriched uranium — enough to fuel 10,000 nuclear bombs.

In May, they were convicted by a jury of intending to harm national security and of damaging more than $1,000 in government property. Walli, 65, and Boertje-Obed, 58, have served a combined eight years of jail time for similar crimes that they categorize as symbolic disarmament actions and civil resistance against a far greater crime: the maintenance of a stockpile of immoral and costly weapons that violate international law.

Rice, who will turn 84 Friday, who lived in the District between the intrusion and the trial, was a teacher in West Africa for decades before returning to the United States to devote her “retirement” to anti-nuclear activism.

The break-in prompted a two-week shutdown of operations at Y-12, four congressional hearings and a raft of reports on the mismanagement of site security. The National Nuclear Security Administration responded to the break-in with a variety of security compensations, from the installation of 2,850 linear feet of concertina wire to requiring that malfunctioning security tools be repaired within 24 hours.

Babcock & Wilcox Technical Services Y-12, the site’s private contractor for management and operations, was docked $12.2 million in fees and lost a 10-year contract worth $23 billion to manage both Y-12 and the Pantex Plant in Amarillo, Tex., where nuclear weapons are assembled and disassembled.

Dan Zak is a feature writer and general assignment reporter based in the Style section. He joined the Post in 2005, after stints as an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a city-desk reporter and obituary writer at The Buffalo News.

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