US accidentally releases secret list of nuclear sites

By Arun Kumar, IANS,

Washington : The US government mistakenly released a secret report giving detailed information about hundreds of the America’s civilian nuclear sites and programmes, including maps showing the precise locations of stockpiles of fuel for nuclear weapons, the New York Times reported Wednesday.

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The publication of the 266-page document with its pages marked “highly confidential” was revealed Monday in an on-line newsletter devoted to issues of federal secrecy, according to the influential US daily.

The document was withdrawn from a Government Printing Office website Tuesday evening after inquiries from the Times, it said.

The information, considered sensitive but not classified, was assembled for transmission later this year to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

President Barack Obama sent the document to the Congress May 5 for review and possible revision, and the Government Printing Office subsequently posted the draft declaration on its web site. As of Tuesday evening, the reasons for that action remained a mystery, the Times said.

Several nuclear experts cited by the daily argued that any dangers from the disclosure were minimal, given that the general outlines of the most sensitive information were already known publicly.

But Steven Aftergood, a security expert at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, who revealed the existence of the document Monday expressed bafflement at its disclosure, calling it “a one-stop shop for information on US nuclear programmes”.

In his letter of transmittal to Congress, Obama characterised the information as “sensitive but unclassified” and said all the information that the United States gathered to comply with the advanced protocol “shall be exempt from disclosure” under the Freedom of Information Act.

The report details the locations of hundreds of nuclear sites and activities. Each page is marked across the top “HIGHLY CONFIDENTIAL SAFEGUARDS SENSITIVE”, with the exception of pages that detailed additional information such as site maps. In his transmittal letter, Obama said the cautionary language was a classification category of the IAEA’s inspectors.

The report lists many particulars about nuclear programmes and facilities at America’s three nuclear weapons labs – Los Alamos, Livermore and Sandia – as well as dozens of other federal and private nuclear sites, the Times said.

One of the most serious disclosures appears to centre on the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, which houses the Y-12 National Security Complex, a sprawling site ringed by barbed wire and armed guards. It calls itself the nation’s “Fort Knox” for highly enriched uranium – a main fuel of nuclear arms.