Energy Dept Issues More Declassification Decisions

10.04.21 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

The formerly classified fact that one metric ton of plutonium metal was to be moved from the Savannah River Site in 2019 for use in nuclear weapon pit production at Los Alamos was declassified in 2018. This recently disclosed declassification decision was one of a handful of such actions that are taken each year by the Department of Energy.

DOE is required to perform “continuous review” of information that is classified under the Atomic Energy Act (sec. 2162) and to periodically determine which information can be removed from the category of Restricted Data and declassified. And so it does, every now and then.

Some of the resulting declassification decisions pertain to specific events, like the transfer of nuclear material from one site to another. Others are narrowly technical, like the declassification of “the static and dynamic equations of state for 71 < Z < 90 for pressures > 10 Mbar.” (Z is the atomic number, where 71 is Lutetium and 90 is Thorium.)

In one anomalous case, the scope of the declassification action itself was redacted and remains undisclosed. This is somewhat hard to understand but DOE apparently holds that, having been declassified, the entire subject of this action now falls within the category of “unclassified controlled nuclear information” which is exempt from disclosure.

Declassification decisions under the Atomic Energy Act through last year were released under the Freedom of Information Act.

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The Federation of American Scientists last week renewed its petition to the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense to declassify the current number of weapons in the U.S. nuclear stockpile and the number that have been dismantled.

“US nuclear weapons policy should be conducted on the basis of accurate public information to the extent possible,” the FAS petition said. “Declassification of stockpile data supports a factual deliberative process in Congress and elsewhere.”

“We will begin the process of evaluating your proposal and conducting the necessary coordination,” replied Nick Prospero, the acting director of the Office of Classification at the Department of Energy.

The size of the US nuclear stockpile was previously declassified and disclosed by the government for each year through FY 2017, when the Trump Administration ended the practice.

Update: On October 5, the Department of State and the National Nuclear Security Administration released annual stockpile and dismantlement figures through FY 2020.

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Another FAS petition, filed in 2018, to declassify the size of the current US inventory of highly enriched uranium has lately received a favorable response from the Department of Energy.

“The program office has indicated they are ready to support the declassification request,” said Andrew Weston-Dawkes, then-director of the DOE Office of Classification, on September 8. “I suspect there is a good amount of work to collect and process the HEU data so hopefully we can provide an update on status in a couple of months.”