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Synthesis/Regeneration 27   (Winter 2002)

Agency Is Protecting The Nuclear Industry, Not The Public

NRC Shuts Website For “Security” Reasons

News from Nuclear Information and Resource Service

The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) on October 11, 2001 shut down its website in order to remove potentially tens of thousands of pages of information about the nation’s commercial nuclear power industry. The NRC left the following message on its site: “Our site is not operational at this time. In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has taken the action to shut down its web site. In support of our mission to protect public health and safety, we are performing a review of all material on our site. We appreciate your patience and understanding during these difficult times.”

“Why,”asked Michael Mariotte, executive director of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), “if the information on the NRC’s website is so potentially valuable to terrorists, did the NRC wait a full month to review its material?”

“The simple reason,” said Mariotte, “is that the information is not particularly useful to terrorists, rather, it’s useful to the US public, which monitors the safety of nuclear power reactors.” Mariotte pointed out that plant-specific security-related information never has been posted on the NRC’s website, nor made available in the agency’s Public Document Rooms.

“We have no quarrel with the NRC removing any legitimate security-related information from public access,” said Paul Gunter, Director of NIRS’ Reactor Watchdog Project, “but we take issue with any NRC effort to remove documents regarding basic plant information, safety requirements, emerging radiation hazards and licensee compliance issues.”

“In light of the agency’s information blackout, NRC is obligated to also suspend a business-as-usual approach with the nuclear utilities,” said Mariotte. “We are asking that the NRC adhere to its statutory requirements and regulatory commitment to include public participation by suspending all licensing proceedings, its meetings with the industry and extending all public comment deadlines until public access to all non-security related documents is resumed.”

…NRC has documented a nearly 50% failure rate by utilities in protecting their reactors from mock terrorist attacks.

Gunter noted that there is no statutory basis for the NRC to withhold most of its information.

“Statutes requiring the protection from unauthorized disclosure of very specific types of security information, documents and reports are already in place,” said Gunter. “If NRC wants to go beyond these statutory bounds then they need to prepare an order stating their legal basis before proceeding further,” he added. “What is this? An undeclared state of Martial Law?”

“The public information blackout only underscores the growing danger and vulnerability that has existed at every nuclear power station,” said Gunter. “Since the initial licensing of nuclear power plants in the 1960’s, our concern is that this technology is ultimately incompatible with real national security and a democratic society.”

The security-based information blackout comes while the NRC has been seeking to close down its Operational Safeguard Response Evaluations (OSRE) program, which has documented a nearly 50% failure rate by utilities in protecting their reactors from mock terrorist attacks.

Instead, the NRC has pushed for less costly industry-led security assessments.

NIRS is sending a letter to NRC Chairman Richard Meserve demanding reinstatement of non-security- related materials.

News from NIRS (Nuclear Information and Resource Service),
1424 16th Street NW, #404, Washington DC 20036
202.328.0002; f: 202.462.2183;
nirsnet@nirs.org; http://www.nirs.org/

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