At the end of July, Sister Megan Rice, an 82-year-old nun of the Society of the Holy Jesus Child, pulled off what The New York Times called "the biggest security breach in the history of the nation's atomic complex." Rice and two others, armed with flashlights and bolt cutters, slipped past the barbed wire and armed guards at the Oak Ridge nuclear reservation in the early hours of July 28 and hung banners and splashed blood on the new, half-billion dollar Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility.
Rice is a devoted anti-nuclear activist and has been arrested 40 or 50 times for civil disobedience, according to the Times, but breaking into one of the country's most secure nuclear facilities was new for her. The ease with which she did so was alarming, to say the least, and it prompted the House Energy and Commerce oversight and investigations subcommittee to invite her to attend a hearing yesterday. Representative Joe Barton of Arlington, the committee's Republican chair, proceeded to thank Rice, according to The Associated Press.
"While I don't totally agree with your platform that you were espousing, I do thank you for bringing out the inadequacies in our security system," Barton said.
"That young lady there brought a Holy Bible," he added. "If she had been a terrorist, the Lord only knows what would have happened."
Others, like Texas Representative Michael Burgess, disagreed, but it's hard to argue that Rice didn't highlight ridiculously porous security measures at Oak Ridge. According to a Department of Energy report presented at the meeting, detectors that should have caught Rice and the others coming through the fence were broken.
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Security officers who heard them hammering on the walls of their building assumed it was construction workers. The activists weren't caught until they approached a security officer's vehicle and surrendered. But don't worry. "Officials insisted that there was never any danger of activists getting to materials that could be detonated on site or used to assemble a dirty bomb," the AP reported.