It is considered the most serious security breach in the history of America’s nuclear weapons infrastructure. In July 2012 three intruders broke into the Y-12 National Nuclear Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee – known as America’s “Fort Knox of Uranium”. Y-12 stores enough highly enriched uranium to make some 10,000 nuclear bombs. The break-in, sent shock waves throughout the U.S. Government, when law enforcement discovered the intruders were an 82-year-old Catholic nun and two fellow peace activists. The trio succeeded in penetrating the heart of America’s nuclear stockpile through the sheer power of their deep conviction that nuclear weapons are immoral… and a pair of bolt cutters. Their dramatic protest, known as a Plowshares action, was designed to raise public awareness on the existential threat nuclear weapons pose to humanity.
The film follows the federal criminal trial against Sr. Megan Rice, Greg Boertje-Obed and Michael Walli, the three activists who were charged with sabotage for their protest at Y-12. It also traces the events leading up to the Y-12 action, and profiles a community of peace activists who, for decades, have been willing to risk long prison sentences, and even death, in an ongoing campaign to move the world away from the nuclear brink. Plowshares is derived from an injunction by the Prophet Isaiah in the Bible’s Old Testament, “They Shall Beat Their Swords into Plowshares” -a call to transform the weapons of war into instruments for the creation of good.
The break-in at Y-12 by Sister Megan Rice and two others was inspired by a Plowshares action at a U.S. naval base near Seattle less than three years earlier. The naval base houses the largest stockpile of active nuclear warheads in the country. Five activists, including a Catholic nun and two Jesuit priests, intruded onto the base reaching the nuclear warhead bunkers. The film traces the connection between the Y-12 and naval base protest, along with the activists’ legal efforts to justify their actions under international law.
The film includes diplomatic efforts at the United Nations to enforce the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), under which nuclear armed nations pledged to abolish their nuclear weapons, as well as negotiations for the new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) which deems nuclear weapons illegal under international law. The TPNW entered into force in January 2021.