Megan Rice

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Megan Gillespie Rice, S.H.C.J., (born January 31, 1930) is an anti-nuclear activist and Roman Catholic Religious Sister of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus and former missionary.[1] She is notable for breaking into the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, at the age of 82 with the Transform Now Plowshares group in an antiwar protest referred to as "the biggest security breach in the history of the nation's atomic complex."[1]

Rice was sentenced to almost 3 years in prison. In May 2015, after serving 2 years, she was released. The conviction was ultimately vacated by a federal appeals court. This was on the grounds that the prosecution failed to prove that Rice and the two others had the intention of causing injury to the national defense system.[2] Part of the court ruling read "But vague platitudes about a facility's 'crucial role in the national defense' are not enough to convict a defendant of sabotage."[3]

Early life and education[edit]

Rice, the youngest of three girls in a Roman Catholic family of Irish descent, was born and raised in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of New York City.[4]

Her father, Frederick W. Rice, was an obstetrician-gynecologist who taught at New York University and treated patients at several New York City hospitals. Her mother, Madeleine Newman Hooke Rice, was a Barnard College graduate who undertook graduate studies at Columbia University while her children were growing up, obtaining a doctorate in history and writing a dissertation on Catholic views about slavery.[1][5] Frederick and Madeleine Rice were active participants in the Catholic Worker movement and considered Dorothy Day a good friend.[5]

Rice was educated in Catholic schools and joined the Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus at age 18.[1][5] She was trained as an elementary school teacher and taught in the early grades in Mount Vernon, New York. Through part-time study at Fordham and Villanova Universities, she earned a bachelor's degree in biology from Villanova in 1957, then studied cellular biology at Boston College, where she received a master's degree.[1][5][6] She then served various stints as a teacher in Nigeria and Ghana from 1962 to 2004.[1]

Anti-war movement[edit]

In the 1980s she became engaged in the anti-war movement. Since then she has engaged in protests against a variety of American military actions, military sites, and nuclear installations.[1] Rice has been arrested more than three dozen times in acts of civil disobedience, including her anti-nuclear activism[1] as a staff member of Nevada Desert Experience[7] in Las Vegas at the Nevada Test Site and protests against the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia.[8] She has served two six-month prison sentences resulting from trespasses during protests against the School of the Americas in 1997-99.[6][9]

Rice became so known for her activism that the United States Department of Energy funded an oral history on her, to help understand her antinuclear views.[1]

Y-12 break-in and protest[edit]

On July 28, 2012, Rice (aged 82), and two fellow activists (Michael R. Walli (aged 63) and Gregory I. Boertje-Obed (aged 57), broke into the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, spray-painted antiwar slogans, and splashed blood on the outside of the heavily guarded Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility.[10] The three are members of the organization "Transform Now Plowshares", a part of the Plowshares Movement, which references the Book of Isaiah's call to "hammer their swords into plowshares", i.e., convert weapons into peaceful tools. Justifying their infiltration of the Oak Ridge facility, the trio cited both Biblical verses calling for world peace and the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons as justifications. The New York Times reported that nuclear experts called this action "the biggest security breach in the history of the nation's atomic complex."[1]

Rice, Walli, and Boertje-Obed were charged with misdemeanor trespass and "destruction and depredation" of government property (a felony)[1] and may face up to a $100,000 fine and up to a year in prison.[11] However they were charged with damaging a defense facility under the sabotage act, a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, and charged with causing more than $1,000 damage to government property, up to 10 years in prison.[12]

On May 9, 2013, the three were convicted. In her testimony Sister Megan said "I regret I didn't do this 70 years ago."[13] Her sentencing was originally scheduled for January 28, 2014,[14] but was postponed to February 18, 2014 due to a snow storm.[15] On February 18, 2014, Rice was sentenced to 35 months in prison, and Walli and Boertje-Obed were each sentenced to 62 months.[16] Rice left prison on 16 April 2015 on good behaviour.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k William J. Broad, "Behind Nuclear Breach, a Nun's Bold Fervor", New York Times, Aug. 11, 2012.
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Tom Deignan, "Are the Irish liberal or conservative? GOP's Paul Ryan meet Sister Megan Gillespie Rice",, August 17, 2012.
  5. ^ a b c d Suzanne Becker (2007). "Interview with Megan Rice, June 22, 2005". Nevada Test Site Oral History Project, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Retrieved August 11, 2012. 
  6. ^ a b "November 1997", "Chronology of SOA Prisoners of Conscience", School of the Americas Watch,; last visited August 8, 2012.
  7. ^ "Nevada Desert Experience: About NDE". Retrieved August 23, 2012. 
  8. ^ "This Week in Georgia", Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Nov. 17, 1996.
  9. ^ Peg Morton, "End of Summer Reflections", West by Northwest, September 7, 2005.
  10. ^ Tim Phillips, "Break-In at Tennessee Nuclear Facility was Politically Motivated, not just a Security Breach", Activist Defense, August 25, 2012.
  11. ^ Nick Allen, "G4S Under Fire After Nun Breaks into US Nuclear Facility", The Telegraph, Aug. 3, 2012.
  12. ^ Leader, Jessica (May 9, 2013). "Sister Megan Rice, 82-Year-Old Nun, Will Receive Sentencing With Other Activists For Damaging Nuclear Site". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2013-05-09. 
  13. ^ Koplowitz, Howard (May 9, 2013). "Nun, 83, Convicted Of Breaking Into Tennessee Nuclear Site: 'My Regret Was I Waited 70 Years,' Sister Megan Rice Says". International Business Times. Retrieved January 17, 2014. 
  14. ^ Harkinson, Josh (January 15, 2014). "Nun Faces up to 30 Years for Breaking Into Weapons Complex, Embarrassing the Feds". Mother Jones. Retrieved January 17, 2014. 
  15. ^ Erdogan, Melodi (January 28, 2014). "Snow delays sentencing for Tennessee nuclear facility break-in". Reuters. Retrieved February 1, 2014. 
  16. ^ Tim Phillips, "Activists Sentenced for Politically Motivated Break-In at Tennessee Nuclear Facility",, February 18, 2014.

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Steven Kalas, "Living with Integrity Is Its Own Reward", Las Vegas Review-Journal, Jan. 1, 2005 (profile of Rice and fellow activists)
  • Discussion of encounter with Rice in Devil's Tango: How I Learned the Fukushima Step by Step by Cecile Pineda (2012), Chapter 78, "Two Halves Make One Whole", pp. 105–106.

External links[edit]