The Nuclear Regulatory Commission today confirmed it pulled its Web site from public access, saying it had previously been making available sensitive information that could be used in a terrorist attack on U.S. nuclear plants.
A spokesman for the NRC said that prior to the Sept. 11 attacks, the agency had made freely available via its Web site extensive materials on NRC operations, including the geo-spatial coordinates of all 103 operating nuclear plants in the country as well as "thousands and thousands of highly technical documents that go back decades." Geo-spatial coordinates are the specific longitude and latitude coordinates that satellites can use to pinpoint the exact location of an object.
"Prior to Sept. 11, we provided a wealth of information in an effort to keep the public informed about policy decisions," said Victor Dricks, an NRC spokesman. "Obviously, we are looking at it all in a new light."
Technical Details Made Available
The technical information that had been available on the Web site until it was shut down Thursday included books containing detailed information about all the country's nuclear plants, including photographs of various sections of plants and components, aerial photos, engineering schematics, and detailed descriptions of safety systems.
Asked whether someone might make use of this information for terrorist purposes, Dricks replied that it was possible. Asked why a more thorough review of these materials had not occurred before Sept. 11, Dricks said he didn't know.
Dricks would not go into greater specifics about the types of technical documents that had been taken down, but said that they had previously been deemed nonsensitive.
He would not say when NRC officials thought the site would be back up.
Government Guidelines Issued
Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the government has issued guidelines asking all government agencies to reassess what information they are providing to the public and to remove anything that might be of use to terrorists.
The effort has drawn criticism from some public interest groups that maintain the public has the right to information that may benefit citizens concerned about the safety of industrial or government activities in their communities.
The Federal Aviation Administration has removed data from its Web site on enforcement actions.