Eleven sentenced for action at Tennessee nuclear site

Eleven activists who opposed a major new nuclear weapons manufacturing facility with a 2010 civil disobedience action were sentenced by a federal judge Sept 12-22. They received varying sentences, the longest being one year in jail.

The 11 were part of a group of 13 who climbed over a barbed wire fence at the Y-12 National Security Complex near Oak Ridge, Tenn., in July 2010 to protest the construction of a new facility at the site. The Army Corps of Engineers projects the cost of the new facility at some $7.5 billion.

The 11 activists had been found guilty of federal trespass last May. A 12th, who could not make the May trial because of illness, is set to be tried in November. The last of the group, Dominican Sr. Jackie Hudson, passed away in August.

Seven of the 11 were from outside Tennessee and had been jailed since May because they would not agree to return to the state of their own will for sentencing. Presentation Sr. Mary Dennis Lentsch, who lives in Tennessee, was permitted to join the others in jail in solidarity in June.

In the September hearings, U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Guyton handed down a range of sentences. While Lentsch received a sentence of time served, Steve Baggarly, a member of the Los Angeles Catholic Worker community who had also been held in jail, received eight more months in prison.

In an interview at the Oak Ridge site last April, Lentsch said that while the activists understood they might face prison for their action, they hoped their decision to plead separately, with a different lawyer for each defendant, might provide education about the country’s nuclear weapons system.

“That means there are 12 lawyers ... talking to each other,” Lentsch said. “They’re all planning strategies. They’re learning about nuclear weapons and international law. I think this whole educational perspective is powerful.”

Among those held in prison since May and who also received additional jail time in September were Bonnie Urfer, codirector of the group Nukewatch, who received eight more months in prison, and Jesuit Fr. Bill Bichsel, who received three additional months.

An extended interview with Lentsch on the “deep mystery” of civil disobedience is on the NCR Web site at NCRonline.org/node/26699.

Join the Conversation

Send your thoughts and reactions to Letters to the Editor. Learn more here