Sister Megan Rice, 82, and her two friends from the Transform Now Plowshares group broke into the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, to protest the nuclear policies of the US government and raise public awareness of the importance of global nuclear disarmament. She was immediately arrested at the premises of the highly-secret uranium enrichment facility and sentenced to 35 months in prison. Sister Rice was released in May 2015, and now continues her public advocacy against the nuclear weapons.
Rice and the fellow activists Michael R. Walli and Gregory I. Boertje-Obed spray-painted anti-war slogans and splashed blood on the walls of the Y-12 nuclear facility. They were charged with misdemeanor trespass, destruction and depredation of government property. They were accused of jeopardizing the US national security, but were eventually cleared of the charges. During her trial, Rice said she regretted she hadn’t done this 70 years earlier.
An elementary school teacher for about 42 years, Megan Rice has been a vocal critic of the United States’ nuclear weapons program. She holds a master’s degree in cellular biology from the Boston College. Rice had been arrested about 50 times during different protests on acts of civil disobedience. She became so well-known for her anti-nuclear viewpoints that the US Department of Energy funded an oral history of her in which she described her upbringing and viewpoints.
Fars News Agency had the opportunity to run an interview with Sister Megan Rice on August 9, as the world marked the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In this interview, she spoke of her aspirations for global peace, her motives for breaking into a heavily-guarded uranium enrichment facility maintained by the Department of Energy and the nuclear policies of the United States.
Q: In February 2014, you were sentenced to 35 months in prison over the charges of “destruction and depredation” and misdemeanor trespass after you entered the Y-12 National Security Complex, a US Department of Energy nuclear facility used for producing highly-enriched uranium. Could you predict the consequences of this risky decision when you and your two colleagues set out the plans for breaking into this highly-protected nuclear facility?
A: We three, as that is how we discerned and try to always proceed – as community – could estimate together some of the consequences of this action. We saw it as our civic responsibility. We learned from some of the history of the ways of secrecy and, perhaps evidence of widespread blindness to or denial of the real truths about the consequences stemming from the crimes of many who have been involved in the control over the misuses of nuclear power in this country from the inception of the Manhattan Project. The facts of the last 7 decades have revealed these crimes against humanity to us, as common sense would affirm, when there is awareness of actual life experiences.
Q: Why did you decide to break into the uranium enrichment facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, although you told Al-Jazeera that you don’t prefer the verb “break into” and that you simply entered the facility? Have you been able to draw national attention to the cause of nuclear non-proliferation and the United States’ growing arsenal of nuclear weapons? What the majority of mainstream media said at the time of your imprisonment was that you acted against the national security. What’s your response to that?
A: We chose to enter this facility in order to be faithful to our shared responsibilities to expose and to oppose known crimes, whether they be of any government officials or individuals. Our intention specifically to do this at Y-12 Oak Ridge facility was to bring our love, compassion, forgiveness, healing and the hope for possible transformation of this facility into that which produces labor, jobs in projects which can enhance life for all on this planet, the home which we share with all living creation and a sustaining socio-economic society, rather than only that which promotes death and destruction.
Q: You said that your intention was to oppose a known crime, that is, the proliferation of nuclear weapons. If the manufacturing and possession of nuclear weapons is a crime, then why does the US government, through different projects organized by the Department of Energy, continue committing this “crime”?
A: I believe there must be much collusion on the part of the actors in control of law-making and the enforcement of these unjust “laws” – contrary to the common good, as all just, real laws, must exist to promote. Obviously some few are acting in order to profiteer from the appropriations which are voted into effect by the various departments involved in these unjust regulations of public resources. J. Robert Oppenheimer commented that the bomb would become a gold rush if not eliminated from human endeavor. He was to become a target for persecution by the select few appointees for promoting the nuclear weapons industrial complex, which in effect has turned the US into what has been called ‘a huge and secret bomb factory’. It has cost this country close to ten trillion dollars over the ensuing 7 decades.
Q: Yes, as you just noted, the costs arising from the possession, development and maintenance of nuclear weapons have been remarkably high for the US government. By February 2006, over $1.2 billion had been paid in compensation to the US citizens exposed to the hazards of the government’s nuclear weapons program, including its aboveground tests in different states, and the diffusion of detrimental materials and environmental contaminations. According to the Brookings Institution, the US government has spent around $8.15 trillion on nuclear weapons since their inception. Why is it so important for the United States to accumulate nuclear weapons that it spends such plentifully on them?
A: I believe it is indicative of the huge amount of profiteering , predicted by Dr. Oppenheimer, and Dr. Martin Luther King, and President Eisenhower on his leaving of office to name only a few. The “soul” and conscience of this nation has been a major component of the fall-out of the original crime against the people of Japan, and the failure of the majority to accept forgiveness offered freely by the wounded Japanese citizens over the ensuing decades. Has the US ever officially asked for forgiveness, or admitted guilt for this crime against all of humanity?
Q: Japan has just commemorated the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. What’s your feeling about that unprecedented incident, scores of Japanese citizens who perished and those who were affected with chronic disorders, defection and psychological trauma?
A: We are all victims with the Japanese, suffering from the wounds of the sacred planet which the misuse of radioactive isotopes has caused by disorienting and disharmonizing it in countless ways, spiritually and materially.
Q: As the only state to have used nuclear weapons in warfare, is the United States in the right place to advise other countries to abandon their nuclear programs?
A: Of course not. This is total hypocrisy and blatant denial of truth.
Q: After several years of negotiating with the six world powers, Iran achieved a comprehensive agreement which assures the world that its nuclear program will always remain peaceful and non-military. What should be done to the other states in our region, including Israel, which haven’t allowed any inspection of their atomic arsenals and never ratified the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, so that the cause of non-proliferation could be upheld?
A: This is a key and well-phrased question, highlighting what should direct us all in our much-needed road to a possible solution. I believe there are enough gifted people around the world who can design viable and useful ways to implement the implementation of the terms of the agreement. It is up to each of us, according to our gifts of creativity and wisdom to work towards widening the awareness of the urgency and true value to us all as part of our global responsibility to be true to our shared humanity as global citizens in the human family.
Q: I read that aside from your latest detention over infiltrating into the Y-12 complex, you were arrested several other times for your acts of civil disobedience. Don’t the continued prosecutions by the law enforcement apparatus convince you to give up the activism and live an untroubled, peaceful life?
A: Being under unfair detention with my brothers and sisters has never prevented any of us for living on behalf of creating a shared, untroubled, and peaceful life, to which we all can aspire. I shall just be allowing events to unfold and just pray to be able to use our gifts, as do most of us, appropriately in fostering with others, our shared responsibilities on behalf of the common good, in peace-building and thus in being engaged in giving, sharing and receiving the harmony of the universe.
Q: So, what’s your decision for the future? Are you intent on continuing your anti-nuclear activism? Don’t you fear that you might be pursued or arrested by the government again?
A: I am hoping for just this: to be engaged in receiving, sharing and giving of the harmony of this universe for which we are equally responsible, to become co-creators with the Source of all Being, in loving compassion. Because I have known this always to be, I fear not to be ever controlled by that which calls itself “government”. If it is not in service of the common good, as is the purpose of any government, which is only of, for and by the people, and the common good of all of creation.
Finally, at this late hour, I add the greetings, blessings and loving solidarity, as we, now attending our Peace Conference at Kateri 17, in the state of New York, near to the town of Fonda, to each of our sisters and brothers in Iran. We honor your efforts to negotiate with the nation states of our world, in ways that are truly peaceful and enhancing of our shared life on this planet. We join you in your desire to eliminate forever any weapons of destruction. We join you in your efforts to build peaceful relationships, and apologize for the ways in which you have been misrepresented by spokespersons for the United States. Please accept our expressions of guilt, and we accept your forgiveness as we honor your efforts to peacefully reach agreement and seek the true common good for all.
Interview by Kourosh Ziabari