CDC Briefs Community on Status of LANL Historical Document Retrieval and Assessment Project
Downstream and Downwinders Question DOE's Removal of Environmental Documents from Internet
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (or CDC) held a public meeting this week to discuss the progress of their Los Alamos National Laboratory (or LANL) Historical Document Retrieval and Assessment Project. According to CDC, the project, which began almost three years ago, will "support an independent characterization of historical releases of materials from the laboratory that had the potential to cause off-site health hazards."
CDC's goal is to retrieve and identify all records related to LANL operations that may contain information about releases of chemicals and radionuclides from the site between 1943 and the present. Currently, CDC has reviewed almost 15,000 boxes of documents, and more than 37,000 reports, which are still only a portion of the total documents that must be reviewed.
According to Tom Widner, of ENSR, the group contracting with CDC to conduct the research, some document retrieval has been difficult considering the sensitive nature of some of the information and heightened security at LANL following the Wen Ho Lee situation two years ago. However, CDC has been allowed access to the majority of the documents they requested. Although some access has been denied, CDC has the option of appealing to the Department of Energy (or DOE) to gain access to restricted documents. DOE can deny CDC access to documents if they contain information regarding nuclear weapons design or foreign government information, among other things.
CDC is adding documents to its collection at the Zimmerman Library at the University of New Mexico. They are available for public review. The deadline for the project has been extended for possibly three to four years.
The Alliance for Nuclear Accountability (or ANA), a national network of organizations representing those who live downwind or downstream from U.S. nuclear weapons facilities, has asked U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham to justify DOE's removal of public information that was available on the internet about the environmental impacts of the facilities. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11th, many DOE documents have been removed from DOE's website because of national security issues.
In a letter sent to Secretary Abraham this week, ANA said, "We are gravely concerned that access to information necessary for monitoring DOE's compliance with air and water pollution control laws, regulations and procedures, such as reports required to be made accessible under the National Environmental Policy Act, are being removed from public view under the guise of 'national security.'"
The letter also pointed out that some of the documents removed, including the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act permit for LANL, are required by law to be available to the public. Susan Gordon, ANA director, said that they are concerned that, "DOE may be using 'national security' as a smokescreen to limit our ability to assure that DOE is truly protecting the 'environmental security' of its neighbors."
ANA also asked several questions of Secretary Abraham, including the criteria for restricting public access to DOE documents, DOE's legal authority for restricting document access, and the procedures for appealing the restrictions. ANA is currently awaiting Secretary Abraham's response.
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