Nuke agency takes Web site offline
Move follows reports of sensitive documents on Internet
From Mike M. Ahlers
CNN Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Nuclear Regulatory Commission removed its massive public reading room from the Internet Monday after nuclear safety activists and media organizations found several documents on it containing sensitive information they said could help terrorists.
The information included floor plans for nuclear laboratories at several universities, specifying the types and locations of nuclear materials they use.
The NRC said the removal of the online document library is temporary and that documents will be posted again after they are scrubbed of sensitive information.
Critics said the action was too late -- coming three weeks after the problem was first publicized -- and too drastic, involving the removal of thousands of non-sensitive documents.
An estimated 700,000 documents were in the reading room, known as ADAMS.
Earlier, the NRC "removed all the documents that were brought to our attention by the public and the news media, but that doesn't guarantee that there aren't more out there, and we have to err on the side of caution," said NRC spokesman Eliot Brenner.
"We decided we had to take the prudent step of closing things up. We want to get the non-sensitive information back out into the public arena as rapidly as possible and we intend to do that," he said.
In addition to the ADAMS site, the NRC was limiting access to its "electronic hearing docket" and to other staff documents pending a review.
"The bulk of the documents will go back up pretty quickly in relative terms and the rest of it will get a much more thorough screening," Brenner said.
Nuclear safety advocates said recently that they occasionally found documents containing explicit information that do not belong on the Web site. (Full story)
Activist Scott Portzline of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, said the university laboratory floor plans he found would be valuable to terrorists, allowing them to hunt for potential sources of nuclear material from the relative obscurity of their computers.
Using the NRC Web site, a terrorist "could prioritize the largest sources, more dangerous sources or the weapons grade sources" of radioactive material, Portzline said.
But Portzline said Monday the NRC's action was overkill, depriving the public of information it legitimately needs.
It was not the first time the NRC has purged its Web site of sensitive information.
Soon after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the NRC temporarily shut down its Web site and removed more than 1,000 documents deemed to have sensitive information.
The information now being removed represents a "next tier" of information that deserves review, the NRC said.