Last summer, in the dead of night, three peace activists penetrated the exterior of Y-12 in Tennessee, supposedly one of the most secure nuclear-weapons facilities in the United States. A drifter, an 82-year-old nun and a house painter. They face trial next week on charges that fall under the sabotage section of the U.S. criminal code. And if they had been terrorists armed with explosives, intent on mass destruction? That nightmare scenario underlies the government’s response to the intrusion. This is the story of two competing worldviews, of conscience vs. court, of fantasy vs. reality, of history vs. the future.

Mission

The devil was just over Pine Ridge.

From the deserted parking lot on the edge of town, the three servants of God looked into darkness.

They clicked on their flashlights, pushed through the initial thicket of brush and began their trek, aiming for the black wooded slope.

First, the house painter: bearded, calm, quiet.

Second, the Catholic nun: gentle, grandmotherly, short of breath.

Third, the drifter: alert, intense, shouldering supplies.

They crept across the marshy field, led by some combination of God and Google Maps. Behind them was the city of Oak Ridge, Tenn., 30 minutes west of Knoxville. On the other side of Pine Ridge was Bear Creek Valley — cradle of the Y-12 National Security Complex, the “Fort Knox of Uranium,” birthplace of the heart of the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima 67 years earlier.

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