Y-12 protesters: Nun sentenced to three years, men receive five

Bill Quigley, Michele Naar-Obed, and Chris Irwin

Defense attorney Bill Quigley, left; Michele Naar-Obed, wife of Y-12 protester Greg Boertje-Obed; and defense attorney Chris Irwin, center right, after a sentencing hearing in Knoxville on Tuesday.

Note: This story was last updated at 10:20 a.m. Feb. 19.

KNOXVILLE—The three protesters who broke into the Y-12 National Security Complex in July 2012 and splashed human blood and spray-painted slogans on a uranium storage building were sentenced to three to five years in prison on Tuesday.

Megan Rice, an 84-year old Catholic nun who last lived in Washington, D.C., received the shortest sentence. She was sentenced to 35 months, or just under three years. Rice is the oldest of the three anti-nuclear weapons activists. She also has the least extensive criminal history, Judge Amul R. Thapar said during a 4.5-hour sentencing hearing in U.S. District Court in Knoxville on Tuesday afternoon.

The other two protesters, Greg Boertje-Obed and Michael Walli, both were sentenced to 62 months, or a little more than five years. They have more extensive prior records. Boertje-Obed is a 58-year-old house painter from Duluth, Minn., and Walli is a 64-year-old Catholic worker and Vietnam veteran from Washington, D.C. Thapar said Boertje-Obed has 40 arrests and more than 20 convictions, and he has previously served time in prison. So has Walli. He was released on Jan. 5, 2012—about six months before the break-in—after an eight-month federal sentence for an earlier trespassing incident at Y-12.

“What do I do when eight months didn’t deter him?” Thapar asked defense attorney Chris Irwin. “It’s getting worse, not better.” [Read more...]

Sentencing for Y-12 protesters now consolidated, starts later Tuesday afternoon

Y-12 Plowshares Protesters

Pictured above are the three anti-nuclear weapons protesters who broke into the Y-12 National Security Complex on July 28, 2012, and vandalized a uranium storage building. From left, they are Michael Walli, Megan Rice, and Greg Boertje-Obed.

A federal judge has delayed for about an hour the Tuesday afternoon sentencing hearing for the three anti-nuclear weapons activists who cut through high-security fences and splashed human blood and spray-painted slogans on a uranium storage building at the Y-12 National Security Complex in July 2012.

The three protesters—Greg Boertje-Obed, Megan Rice, and Michael Walli—had originally been scheduled to have separate hearings starting at noon today (Tuesday) and continuing through 4 p.m. But in an order filed Tuesday morning, U.S. District Judge Amul R. Thapar said he would consolidate some aspects of the court’s analysis and allow all three defendants to remain in the courtroom during all three sentencing hearings.

The joint sentencing hearing will now start at 1:30 p.m. today (Tuesday) in U.S. District Court in Knoxville.

An earlier consolidated sentencing hearing on Jan. 28 was delayed due to snow. [Read more...]

Y-12 protesters to be sentenced in three hearings Tuesday

The Fruit of Justice is Peace Slogan on HEUMF at Y-12

Three anti-nuclear weapons activists who sneaked into the Y-12 National Security Complex on July 28, 2012, splashed human blood and, quoting Proverbs, sprayed paint on the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility. The protesters also hammered the building, causing it to chip, and strung up crime scene tape. (Submitted photo)

The three anti-nuclear weapons activists who cut through high-security fences and splashed human blood and spray-painted slogans on the side of a uranium storage building at the Y-12 National Security Complex in July 2012 will be sentenced in three separate hearings in Knoxville on Tuesday.

Their earlier consolidated sentencing hearing on Jan. 28 was delayed due to snow.

U.S. District Judge Amul R. Thapar has ordered that Michael Walli, a 64-year-old Catholic worker from Washington, D.C., be sentenced at 12 p.m. Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Knoxville. Walli is facing the longest potential sentence, a range of about seven to nine years, for the damage caused during the unprecedented security breach.

Greg Boertje-Obed, a 58-year-old painter from Duluth, Minn., will be sentenced next, at 2 p.m. His recommended sentence is roughly six to eight years. [Read more...]

Judge says Y-12 protesters not contrite as snow delays sentencing

Y-12 Plowshares Protesters

Pictured above are the three anti-nuclear weapons protesters who broke into the Y-12 National Security Complex on July 28, 2012, and vandalized a uranium storage building. From left, they are Michael Walli, Megan Rice, and Greg Boertje-Obed.

KNOXVILLE—The three protesters who cut through fences and vandalized a uranium storage building at the Y-12 National Security Complex in July 2012 have not shown contrition or accepted responsibility for what they’ve done, a federal judge said during a Tuesday sentencing hearing.

The three anti-nuclear weapons activists—Greg Boertje-Obed, Megan Rice, and Michael R. Walli—have acknowledged that they splashed human blood, hung crime scene tape, and hammered on the side of the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility on July 28, 2012. They have freely given interviews to reporters and admitted that they spray-painted slogans—they called them “Biblical graffiti”—on the side of the HEUMF, which stores most of the nation’s bomb-grade uranium.

But acknowledging their actions is not the same as contrition, U.S. District Judge Amul R. Thapar suggested during a Tuesday sentencing hearing at the Howard H. Baker Jr. Courthouse in Knoxville. To accept responsibility, the trio would have to show contrition and remorse, and acknowledge that what they did was wrong, Thapar said.

However, the defendants have fought the government at every step in the 18-month-old case, the judge said. [Read more...]

Y-12 sentencing hearing delayed due to snow

Y-12 Sentencing Hearing

Snow delayed the Tuesday afternoon sentencing for the three anti-nuclear weapons activists who cut through fences and vandalized a uranium storage building at the Y-12 National Security Complex in July 2012. Above, supporters, attorneys, and reporters leave U.S. District Court in Knoxville.

KNOXVILLE—Snow delayed the Tuesday afternoon sentencing for the three anti-nuclear weapons activists who cut through fences and vandalized a uranium storage building at the Y-12 National Security Complex in July 2012.

The hearing could be moved to 9 a.m. Feb. 18. But there is also a possibility that U.S. District Judge Amul Thapar, who normally hears cases in the Eastern District of Kentucky, could resume the hearing on Wednesday.

The sentencing hearing for the three protesters—Greg Boertje-Obed, Megan Rice, and Michael Walli—was at the Howard H. Baker Jr. Courthouse in Knoxville, which closed early at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday because of the snow and driving conditions. [Read more...]

Y-12 protesters to be sentenced Tuesday morning

Y-12 Plowshares Protesters

Pictured above are the three anti-nuclear weapons protesters who broke into the Y-12 National Security Complex on July 28, 2012. From left, they are Michael Walli, Megan Rice, and Greg Boertje-Obed.

The three protesters convicted on federal charges after sneaking into the Y-12 National Security Complex and splashing human blood and spray-painting slogans on a uranium storage building in July 2012 will be sentenced in U.S. District Court in Knoxville on Tuesday morning.

The sentencing hearing for the three anti-nuclear weapons activists—Greg Boertje-Obed, Megan Rice, and Michael R. Walli—is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Tuesday. The defendants will be sentenced individually after a joint hearing to hear witness testimony and objections to a pre-sentence report.

The government plans to call retired Brig. Gen. Rodney L. Johnson as a witness. He testified at the two-day trial in May, and he is the senior vice president and deputy general manager of security operations and emergency services at Y-12.

A Catholic nun, house painter, and laborer, Boertje-Obed, Rice, and Walli were convicted in May 2013 of destroying U.S. property and attempting to injure national defense premises. They acknowledged sneaking into Y-12 before dawn on July 28, 2012, and cutting through three fences in a high-security Protected Area before vandalizing the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility, where most of the nation’s bomb-grade uranium is stored. But they said their unprecedented intrusion was peaceful, religiously motivated, and nonviolent, a symbolic disarming of Y-12. [Read more...]

B&W announces leadership changes at Y-12

Dave Richardson

Dave Richardson

The Babcock and Wilcox Co. on Friday announced top management changes at B&W Y-12, the contractor that operates the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge.

Among the changes: B&W Y-12 President and General Manager Charles G. “Chuck” Spencer, who started at Y-12 shortly after the July 28, 2012, security breach, will return to his former position as vice president and chief operating officer of Babcock and Wilcox Technical Services Group Inc. Spencer will continue his involvement at Y-12 and the Pantex Plant in Texas as chairman of the Board of Managers for both B&W Y-12 and Babcock and Wilcox Technical Services Pantex LLC, a press release said.

Spencer replaced Darrel P. Kohlhorst in August 2012. Kohlhorst abruptly retired after the security breach.

Spencer will be replaced by Dave Richardson, who will become president and general manager of Babcock and Wilcox Technical Services Y-12 LLC, or B&W Y-12, on Feb. 1. [Read more...]

Activists ask federal officials to build UPF underground at Y-12

Uranium Processing Facility

Pictured above is the proposed Uranium Processing Facility at Y-12 National Security Complex, with the administrative area in the front and the fortified section of the building in the rear. (Submitted image)

The proposed multi-billion-dollar building that would process uranium at the Y-12 National Security Complex should be buried below ground, an Oak Ridge nonprofit organization and a Washington, D.C.-based group told federal safety officials in a Monday letter.

The groups planned to make their request during an all-day meeting and public hearing of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board in Knoxville on Tuesday. The board is meeting in two sessions from 8 a.m. to noon and 2 to 6 p.m. today (Tuesday) at the Knoxville Convention Center.

The Monday letter was from the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability in Washington, D.C. Among the dozen signatories is Ralph Hutchison, coordinator of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, a group that has long been critical of the nuclear weapons work at Y-12. OREPA said the letter’s signatories represent thousands of members at sites across the country. [Read more...]

Guest column: Y-12 wants to have best security in nation’s nuclear weapons enterprise

Chuck Spencer

Chuck Spencer

Note: This is a copy of a message that B&W Y-12 President and General Manager Chuck Spencer sent to employees July 25 regarding the one-year anniversary of the July 28, 2012, security breach at the Y-12 National Security Complex.

General Manager’s Message: One-Year Anniversary of Security Event

One year ago this coming Sunday (July 28), three individuals trespassed at the Y-12 National Security Complex, damaged government property, and interfered with our ongoing national defense operations. While the security breach was unacceptable, the intruders did not come close to accessing any nuclear materials. Since that time, B&W Y-12 has worked closely with the National Nuclear Security Administration to make numerous changes in security and operations. I want to thank each and every one of you for your role in those improvements. I also want to highlight those improvements specifically and talk a little about our path forward. [Read more...]

Peace group wants fence removed from longtime Y-12 protest area

Y-12 Fence on Scarboro Road

The temporary fence erected at the main entrance to the Y-12 National Security Complex encloses an area, pictured above, that has been used for protests and vigils for years. An Oak Ridge organization that wants to eradicate nuclear weapons has asked a federal court to order the removal of the fence before an Aug. 6 ceremony.

Calling it an assault on their First Amendment rights, an Oak Ridge organization has again asked a federal court to order officials to remove a fence that blocks an area long used for protests, vigils, and demonstrations in front of the Y-12 National Security Complex.

The Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, which opposes Y-12’s nuclear weapons production work, filed the preliminary injunction in U.S. District Court in Knoxville on Friday. The lawsuit, which amends a complaint filed in April, names new U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz as the sole defendant.

OREPA wants the U.S. Department of Energy to reopen a small grass field near Y-12’s main entrance at East Bear Creek and Scarboro roads before an annual Aug. 6 demonstration. If it is left in place, the temporary fence erected April 1 would cause “irreparable harm” to First Amendment rights—including the rights of free speech, peaceful assembly, and the ability to petition the government for a redress of grievances, OREPA said. [Read more...]

Y-12 security update outlines improvements since July 28 intrusion

Y-12 Security Repairs Chart

Since three protesters broke in last summer, security cameras and sensors have been repaired and replaced. There are more security patrols at the Y-12 National Security Complex and more staff in the Central Alarm Station. And officials and workers are trying to reduce the false and nuisance alarm rate.

Those are among the improvements highlighted in a Y-12 security update published in May. It said Y-12 quickly began making changes after the July 28 security breach, when three anti-nuclear weapons activists broke into the plant before dawn, cut through three fences in the high-security Protected Area, and splashed human blood, spray-painted slogans, and hammered on the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility, where most of the nation’s bomb-grade uranium is stored.

“Y-12 has carefully examined the circumstances that led to the event, developed actions to fix the problems that were discovered, and is applying the lessons learned to our security posture and operations,” the security update said. “These actions included adding key leadership personnel, restoring to service critical security elements, and refining alarm system components to enhance reliability.” [Read more...]

Y-12 security failed to follow procedure, allowed driver to enter site, NNSA says

Security Officers at Y-12 East Gate

Security police officers stand guard during an August 2012 peace protest at the east gate and main entrance to the Y-12 National Security Complex at Bear Creek and Scarboro roads.

Police officers at the Y-12 National Security Complex failed to follow established procedures when they allowed an Oak Ridge woman who did not have permission to be at the nuclear weapons plant to drive through the main entrance at Scarboro Road on Thursday morning, federal officials said.

Brenda L. Haptonstall, 62, told Oak Ridge police she was looking for a new, low-cost apartment complex and followed morning commuters through the east gate at the Y-12 National Security Complex at about 6:10 a.m. Thursday.

An Oak Ridge Police Department report said Haptonstall drove unhindered through the plant before she was stopped by security officers at the west gate. Haptonstall told ORPD Officer Roy J. Heinz that she thought there must have been a crash at Y-12 because there were “nice officers waving her through with illuminated flashlight cones,” the report said. [Read more...]