Nuclear Commission Re-proposes Secrecy Rule

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has once again proposed a revision to its rules on information that should be withheld from the public under a category called Safeguards Information (SGI). The rule was originally proposed in February 2005. Now based on public comments and changes to the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the NRC has proposed additional changes. While apparently narrowing the scope of some provisions, making it harder to withhold information, the amended rule would significantly expand SGI's definition, inserting language and add a new category of covered information -- Safeguards Information-Modified Handling (SGI-M).

The SGI category was created under the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 to prevent inadvertent release and unauthorized disclosure of "sensitive but unclassified" information that might compromise the security of nuclear facilities and materials. Most SGI information was only released on a "need-to-know" basis. On Feb. 11, 2005, the NRC proposed a rule to broaden the already expansive SGI regulations to withhold any information about emergency planning procedures, safety analyses, or defense capabilities. The NRC also proposed the addition of Safeguards Information-Modified Handling (SGI-M), a new sensitive but unclassified designation that would allow nuclear materials producers already using SGI regulations to hide additional types of regulated information. This proposal is in spite of the agency's own estimations that SGI-M data carries a lower risk if released to the general public.

OMB Watch and other public interest groups submitted comments last year criticizing the February 2005 NRC proposal for including overly vague provisions that could hide vast amounts of information from public purview, thereby reducing access and accountability. In the newest proposal, the agency made slight improvements in response to these criticisms improving language and definitions to reduce the possibility that the new categories withhold emergency planning and public accountability information. Unfortunately, the improvements notwithstanding, the agency rejected most of the larger complaints and continues to propose expanding the amount of information restricted as SGI and SGI-M with few oversight provisions to protect against overuse.

NRC is accepting public comments on the revised proposed rule until Jan. 2, 2007. OMB Watch and other members of the public interest community will undoubtedly again push for common sense disclosure that protects communities and first responders.

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