An 84-year-old nun was sentenced Tuesday to nearly three years in prison for breaking into a nuclear weapons complex and defacing a bunker holding bomb-grade uranium in 2012, a demonstration that exposed serious security flaws at the plant in Oak Ridge, Tenn.
Two other activists who broke into the facility with Megan Rice of Washington were sentenced to more than five years in prison, in part because they had longer criminal histories of mostly nonviolent civil disobedience.
Although officials said there was never any danger of the protesters reaching materials that could be detonated or made into a dirty bomb, the break-in raised questions about the safekeeping at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge.
The facility holds the nation's primary supply of bomb-grade uranium.
After the protest, the complex had to be shut down, security forces were retrained and contractors were replaced.
Rice, a sister in the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, asked the judge to sentence her to life in prison, though sentencing guidelines called for about six years.
"Please have no leniency with me," she said in her closing statement. "To remain in prison for the rest of my life would be the greatest gift you could give me."
Rice, Greg Boertje-Obed, 58, of Duluth, Minn., and Michael Walli, 65, of Washington all said God was using them to raise awareness on nuclear weapons and they viewed their break-in as a miracle.
Their attorneys asked the judge to sentence them to time they had already served, about nine months, because of their record of goodwill throughout their lives.
U.S. District Judge Amul Thapar said he was concerned they showed no remorse and he wanted the punishment to be a deterrent for other activists. All three were convicted last May.