A Correction on Nuclear Secrecy

08.25.11 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

On August 22 (“Some New Wrinkles in Nuclear Weapons Secrecy”), Secrecy News mistakenly wrote that the SILEX uranium enrichment process is “a unique case in which information that was privately generated was nevertheless classified by the government.  As far as could be determined, the decision to classify this non-governmental information under the Atomic Energy Act is the first and only time that such authority has been exercised.”  That was inaccurate.

Dr. Andrew Weston-Dawkes, the director of the Department of Energy Office of Classification, said that offhand he was aware of at least one other such case of classification of privately-generated information.  It involved “an AVLIS-like technology,” he said, referring to “atomic vapor laser isotope separation.”

Bryan Siebert, the former director of the DOE Office of Classification, said his recollection was that some of the laser fusion technology developed by the private company KMS Fusion in the early 1970s was also considered to be classified, “a long time before SILEX.”  An account of the KMS Fusion case —  which, he said, is “inaccurate in many ways” — is available from Wikipedia here.

Beyond that, said Dr. Weston-Dawkes, “there’s a long history of us going out to people [in the private sector] saying ‘you’re doing stuff’ [that needs to be reviewed for classification].”

He pointed to a 1972 public notice (pdf) issued by the Atomic Energy Commission.  It instructed “any person” working on isotope separation techniques to notify the Commission whenever a separation process has been demonstrated “so the Commission can give him appropriate classification and reporting guidance.”

There are many other instances in which individual authors have tangled with Department of Energy classification officials concerning the publication of information that DOE believed to be classified, such as Howard Morland’s article on the H-Bomb that was the subject of The Progressive case in 1979.  But those disputes involved previously generated and previously classified information, not qualitatively new inventions or developments.