January 15, 1997

Amber Jones/Chris Kielich, 202/586-5806

Energy Secretary Releases More Nuclear Information, Including Historic Testing Films and Report on Highly Enriched Uranium Vulnerability

"Openness is Now the Way We Do Business at the Department of Energy"

The Department of Energy (DOE) today took another major step in its openness initiative, releasing a wealth of data on nuclear weapons production and testing and beginning the declassification of a treasure trove of more than 6,500 government films chronicling the atomic age. In another move, Secretary of Energy Hazel R. O'Leary revealed that a small quantity of plutonium was left behind in a research reactor in Vietnam in 1975. In addition, she took the unprecedented step of issuing for public comment proposed rules governing the declassification of nuclear information.

The department also issued a report that identifies the potential health, safety and environmental risks associated with the storage of highly enriched uranium (HEU)–a key explosive in nuclear warheads–and another report that presents the first comprehensive analysis of the environmental impacts associated with the production of nuclear weapons over the last 50 years.

In announcing the measures, Secretary O'Leary said: "Four years ago we began to open the doors of the U.S. nuclear weapons program to public review. With the support of President Clinton, openness has advanced public understanding and earned us the public trust critical to progress on weapons site cleanup, preventing the spread of weapons materials to terrorists and rogue states, and maintaining the remaining arsenal. Openness is now the way we do business at the Department of Energy."

Unprecedented Nuclear Information Revealed

One of the highlights of today's announcements was the completion of the environmental, safety and health vulnerability assessment of U.S. HEU at DOE facilities. The study identifies more than 150 conditions or weaknesses at 13 sites that need to be corrected to ensure the continued safety and health of workers, the public and the environment.

In a move that further opens U.S. nuclear data to public scrutiny, O'Leary provided additional information on nuclear tests, revising some of the previously released data on atmospheric radiological emissions from the tests. She revealed that 13 more underground nuclear weapons tests resulted in radiological emissions to the atmosphere than previously reported. The releases, from tests conducted at the Nevada Test Site between 1975 and 1988, were contained within the boundaries of the site and had no measurable health or safety impacts on the public. O'Leary also provided data for the first time on the on-site radiological releases from 93 other tests. The new data are summarized in a revision of a 1990 report that details the atmospheric radiological emissions from nuclear tests. The report now includes the additional tests conducted between 1988 and 1992, the year of the last U.S. test.

Secretary O'Leary also released a declassified document that shows a small amount of U.S.-supplied plutonium (about 80 grams or 3 ounces) being used in a South Vietnam test reactor was not recovered when the area fell to the Communists in 1975, despite the attempt by two U.S. volunteers to retrieve the material. Although the amount involved does not present a special proliferation concern, DOE is working with the International Atomic Energy Agency to verify the status of the plutonium and take any necessary action.

Historic Films Document Nuclear Age

In a major move, DOE announced the release of a treasure trove of films of early weapons tests from the archives of DOE's Albuquerque, NM, Operations Office. The Albuquerque office, formed soon after the Atomic Energy Commission in 1946, collected and stored original footage that documents the history of nuclear weapons tests, from the first bomb exploded at the Trinity Site in 1945 through the end of atmospheric testing in 1962. As part of its overall declassification initiative, DOE has begun the process of reviewing, declassifying and making available to the public some 6,500 of these films. A master copy of the films will be preserved by the National Archives.

Classification Policies Opened to Public Scrutiny

In another unprecedented move, DOE is releasing for public comment a proposed regulation for managing classified information, marking the first time the public has been invited to participate in the establishment of nuclear-related classification and declassification policies.

Secretary O'Leary discussed the recently completed Fundamental Classification Policy Review, which is now in the final stages of coordination between the Department of Energy, the Department of Defense and other agencies. "The need for classification has changed dramatically in recent years," O'Leary noted. "The review has identified additional information that can be declassified and released, but also some information that should be protected at a higher level."

Comprehensive Environmental Review Completed

Secretary O'Leary also released a comprehensive report that for the first time links specific environmental impacts with corresponding nuclear weapons production operations such as uranium processing, chemical separation, and component fabrication.

NOTE: For fact sheets describing the initiatives announced today and how to obtain copies of the cited documents, call DOE Public Inquiries at 202/586-5575.

- DOE -


| OpenNet (The Dept.'s Declassified Information) | Openness: The Way to do Business, Press Conference Fact Sheets (January 15, 1997)