NRC yanks online docket amid terror concerns

NRC yanks online docket amid terror concerns

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission yesterday suspended public access to its online docket, following reports that terrorists could use information from the database to steal radioactive materials and make dirty bombs.

NRC spokesman Dave McIntyre said the agency would keep the Agencywide Documents Access and Management System offline for about three weeks while employees check its content for information terrorists could use. After the review, NRC will begin restoring the ADAMS information, McIntyre said.

The agency also suspended access to documents concerning the planned Yucca Mountain high-level nuclear waste repository in Nevada.

'No classified or safeguards information is now or ever has been permitted on the NRC Web site,' McIntyre said, referring to data that could either be directly useful in building conventional weapons or in getting access to radioactive material that terrorists could use to make a dirty bomb.

NRC shut down its site immediately following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and purged more than 1,000 documents that its decided contained sensitive information. 'Since then, the agency has revised its policy regarding sensitive information that may be displayed and additional documents have been removed,' according to an agency statement.

McIntyre said activists have from time to time alerted NRC to sensitive information in the public database, and the agency has sometimes responded by removing data.

The latest action follows reports by CNN and NBC News about ADAMS information detailing floor plans of hospitals, universities and businesses that store radioactive materials. NBC camera crews visited some facilities to demonstrate the ease of closely approaching radioactive material storage areas.

Paul Gunter, spokesman for the Nuclear Resources and Information Service, condemned the agency's decision to suspend all public access to the site. He noted that since 1999, ADAMS has served as the public's main access point to nuclear regulatory information. In 1999, NRC shuttered its regional public document rooms. It now maintains one public document room at its headquarters in Rockville, Md.

Gunter said NRC could have suspended access only to the docket for materials licensees, which are the medical, academic and industrial sites about which the media and antinuclear activists have uncovered sensitive information online.

'The concern is that they have put the public in an information blackout,' Gunter said. 'I don't blame this on ADAMS. I blame this on the NRC's failure to clearly define safeguards information and this newly defined area of sensitive information.'

Gunter added that NIRS fully supports the use of electronic docketing as long as the agency retains access to paper documents.

The Union of Concern Scientists, another nuclear watchdog group, condemned suspension of the online database and urged the agency to suspend all nonessential licensing actions until NRC restores public access to ADAMS.

McIntyre said NRC has been widening the scope of information it reviews to determine whether it should be posted online. 'The current standard is that any information that would be useful or could reasonably expected to be useful to terrorists in a potential attack should be withheld.'

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