List of civilian nuclear sites exposed

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By Roger Snodgrass

Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists removed a link Thursday to a catalog he had downloaded of hundreds of civilian nuclear sites in the United States.

The information included 17 pages of activities at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Aftergood found the document on the Government Printing Office website and on Monday published a link to a copy from his blog, Secrecy News.

The file was replaced Thursday afternoon with the notice, “This document is no longer available on the FAS web site,” apparently in response to mounting concerns about an inadvertent release of information.

The compilation was intended for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), to provide a full picture of the nation’s civilian nuclear work, including mines, fuel fabrication and enrichment plants, nuclear waste sites, and locations where nuclear material is or could be present.

For LANL, there is a list of programs, classified by nuclear fuel cycle, which includes reactors, nuclear fuel fabrication and nuclear fuel reprocessing. The form contains a brief summary of each program and specifies a laboratory area, building and room for an address.

Each page of the completed forms is headed with an AEIA classification, “Highly Confidential Safeguard Sensitive.”

Aftergood, who carefully follows the government’s classification policy wrote that he was interested in the seeming contradiction between the president’s statement in a cover letter, dated May 5, that “the United States regards this information as 'Sensitive but Unclassified,’” and the fact that it had been made public by the government.

GPO received and produced the document under routine operating procedures, according to a statement, but then it reconsidered as well.

“Upon being informed about the potential sensitive nature of the attachment in this document, the Public Printer of the United States removed it from GPO’s website pending further review,” said GPO’s Media and Public Relations Manager Gary Somerset in a statement. “After consulting with the White House and Congress, it was determined that the document including the sensitive attachment be removed from the website.”

Both Energy Secretary Steven Chu and National Nuclear Security Administration Administrator Thomas D’Agostino were asked about the incident during budget hearings this week.

The Associated Press reported that Chu said he was bolstering security at a storage facility for highly enriched uranium at the Y-12 Oak Ridge complex in Tennessee.

The report includes a detailed close-up of the location of Tube Vault 16 East Storage Array within the complex.

“That’s of great concern,” he said during questions about the disclosures in general from a House Appropriations subcommittee.

“We’re all concerned about it,” said Damien LaVera, an NNSA spokesperson who has handled most of the questions for the administration during the flap. “We would prefer that this not have gotten out like this, but there is no sensitive classified material.”

In an earlier statement LaVera said that the Departments of Energy, Defense and Commerce and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission had all thoroughly reviewed the report “to ensure that no information of direct national security significance would be compromised.”

Some of the information may be commercially sensitive, since it relates to ongoing work by companies developing nuclear power generators, but none of the information is directly related to nuclear weapons.

By Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called for an immediate investigation on why GPO made the report public. “The disclosure of information related to nuclear facilities suggests that the current system does not provide adequate review and safeguards,” she said in a statement.

In separate statements, members of the New Mexico congressional delegation called for greater caution and drew similar conclusions.

“Clearly, we need to be much more careful in handling information about facilities and activities considered sensitive, but which are unclassified,” Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said

“We must get to the bottom of this incident with a full investigation into how the report came to be released by the U.S. GPO so we can put safeguards in place to prevent sensitive material like this from being inadvertently released again,” Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said. “As always, I will continue to push for accountability and encourage security improvements throughout the NNSA and DOE complex.”

Rep. Ben Ray Luján said, “The accidental disclosure of nuclear sites is troubling and shows a need for greater safeguards.”

The compilation of civilian nuclear locations by the U.S. government was conducted in compliance with an agreement known as the Additional Protocol that grants the IAEA extra inspection authority.

The Additional Protocol, according to a list of signatories on the IAEA website, was ratified by the U.S. in 1998, but not signed until the end of the Bush Administration early this year.

An NNSA press release noted the delivery of the formal instrument of the agreement in Vienna on Jan. 6.