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82-year-old nun evades guards to break into nuclear facility

All operations remained suspended yesterday at the sole facility in the US for storing enriched uranium after the area was breached by three anti-nuclear protesters, including an 82-year-old nun, exposing gaps in security provided by G4S, the same private company accused of bungling security arrangements for the Olympics.

After cutting through three fences around Y-12, a World War Two-era nuclear weapons complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, the three activists, identified as Megan Rice (82), Michael Wallis (63) and Greg Boertje-Obed (57), got as far as the outer wall of the uranium building and allegedly daubed it with slogans and splashed it with human blood.

A spokeswoman for WSI Oak Ridge, which is contracted by the US Energy Department to keep intruders out of the highly sensitive complex, declined to respond to questions yesterday. The company is a subsidiary of the international security firm G4S which acknowledged shortly before the London Games that it had been unable to assemble sufficient numbers of staff to keep them safe.

While the incursion has served once again to embarrass G4S, a spokesman for the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance said that was not the original purpose of the successful protest.

"It wasn't so they could show how easy it was to bust into this bomb plant, it was because the production of nuclear weapons violates everything that is moral and good," Ralph Hutchinson said. "It is a war crime."

Vandalism

The three perpetrators, who seemingly wandered within the perimeter fences of Y-12 for two hours before reaching the key storage building, have been charged with "vandalism and criminal trespass". They were due to appear before a judge in Tennessee last night for a bail hearing.

All questions to WSI were being referred to Steve Wyatt, spokesman for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which is part of the US Energy Department.

"We're taking this very, very seriously," he said, confirming that the trio had cut through two chain-link fences on the edge of Y-12 and a third fence closer to the structure known as the 'Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility', where they left the slogans

Hidden away in countryside to the west of Knoxville, the Oak Ridge complex was established in 1942 and became ground zero for the Manhattan Project, which led to the development of the atomic bomb.

Officials insist the safety of the uranium at Y-12 was never compromised by the incursion but the fact that the three were able to get so close is a cause of deep concern. (©Independent News Services)

Irish Independent