Agency Goes Overboard by Shutting Down Entire Web Site
WASHINGTON, D.C. — In an unprecedented move, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) on Thursday shut down its entire Web site, barring the public from even innocuous information about public hearings in their communities. Arguing it was necessary in order “to protect public health and safety” in light of the Sept. 11 attacks, the NRC has done what no other federal agency has done: deny public access to all online information. Public Citizen urges that the NRC immediately re-open the Web site and remove only information deemed to be sensitive in light of national security concerns.
“While federal agencies are prudent to review sensitive information they post online, the NRC?s decision to remove all information on their Web site is an overreaction that does more harm than good,” said Tyson Slocum, research director at Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. “If nuclear power plants are such dangerous targets, perhaps we should be shutting down the reactors ? not the Web site that provides non-objectionable information to the public.”
Because the NRC has blocked access to the entire Web site, citizens can no longer easily gain access to safety records of nuclear reactors in their communities or documents related to government policy on nuclear power. This type of data has nothing to do with a reactor?s vulnerability to an attack but provides the public with data on accidents and mishaps at reactors caused by human or mechanical error. In addition, information about regulatory requirements and public meetings is no longer easily accessible. This information is crucial for citizens to hold nuclear reactor operators and government regulators accountable to safety requirements.
Other agencies with potentially sensitive online information have been far more discriminating in temporarily restricting access. The Department of Transportation removed only those Web pages disclosing a national mapping system of pipelines. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention took down a report on the dangers of terrorist attacks on chemical plants. The Environmental Protection Agency pulled information on the dangers that chemical plants and other industrial facilities could pose to communities.
NRC spokesman Breck Henderson recently told the Chicago Tribune that the agency has been working with the White House and Department of Defense to remove potentially sensitive information on the NRC Web site, such as pages that disclose the exact geographic coordinates of a nuclear reactor.
A spokesman at the NRC’s public affairs office, told Public Citizen that the Web site was not shut down in response to any specific threat, and that it will remain inaccessible for an undetermined amount of time.