The Manhattan Project Resources

U.S. Department of Energy logos U.S. Department of Energy Office of Environment, Health, Safety and Security Office of History and Heritage Resources



December 22, 1997

When President Clinton selected me for the high honor of being Secretary of Energy, he said the Department of Energy should build on its "unprecedented commitment to openness" by continuing to lift the shroud of secrecy covering our government's 50 year history of producing nuclear weapons.

Today, we are meeting the President's challenge and taking historic steps that will make our government's openness to the public an everyday fact of life. We will make it easier for citizens to access information about past and present governmental actions. We will help Americans understand the full history of our nuclear weapons production and testing. And we will streamline and improve our whistleblower procedures for employees reporting misconduct or inappropriate governmental actions.

I believe the American people have a right to know about government actions that could affect their lives, their communities, and their future. A government that is open and honest with its citizens builds confidence and trust that is essential if we are to create a better country for future generations of Americans.

The challenge we face is striking a balance between our national security needs and the public's right to know about government actions -- whether good or bad -- that affect our daily lives. In the past, to protect critical national information, we classified virtually every aspect of our nuclear activities.

After four years of a strong commitment to openness, I believe we are improving the American people's ability to obtain information about their government and preserving information where our national security is clearly at risk. Today, we will build on that legacy of openness, creating greater trust and confidence in our government, through three announcements:

  1. First, we are formalizing openness. After a 2-year historic dialogue with the public and other government agencies, we are changing our procedures governing what we classify, what we declassify, and most importantly, why we classify. Our new way of doing business will reduce the amount of information that will be kept classified, while increasing the protections for smaller amounts of critical information about our nuclear activities.

  2. Secondly, we are releasing unprecedented amounts of information. To underscore our commitment to openness, we are doubling the quantity of previously classified information available on the Internet. For example, the history of our plutonium production activities at Hanford, Washington, has now been largely declassified.

  3. Thirdly, we are simplifying our whistleblower rules and encouraging quicker resolutions of employee complaints. Today I am signing two proposed rulemakings that will improve our ability to negotiate whistleblower cases and decrease how long they take to resolve. Whistleblowers often shine a powerful light on possible misconduct and we need that kind of self-criticism if openness is to succeed. We will also streamline how we deal with whistleblower allegations, whether it is a health and safety violation, fraud, waste, or dangerous working conditions. And when a DOE contractor has a whistleblower action pending, the Department will not automatically reimburse the contractor's penalties if their misconduct is proven.

Let me provide specifics about each of these three actions.

Formalizing Openness

Today we're taking concrete steps that demonstrate our long-term commitment to openness. First, I am pleased to announce that the Department of Energy, in partnership with the Department of Defense, has completed and approved a historic review of the federal government's classification policies of nuclear information. We are releasing today the unclassified portions of a report we call The Fundamental Classification Policy Review.

This is the first top-to-bottom review undertaken by the U.S. government since we began classifying nuclear information 50 years ago. I want to thank and recognize Dr. Al Narath, the former Director of Sandia National Laboratories and now a Vice President of Lockheed-Martin, the members of his technical team, and Department of Defense officials, for leading this successful effort.

I also want to welcome Dr. Linton Wells, Under Secretary for Policy at the Department of Defense. Thank you for your invaluable assistance, Dr. Wells.

We consulted with hundreds of people in communities across America and with numerous government agencies during this unprecedented effort. This dialogue demonstrated that citizens can help guide us in how we deal with highly sensitive information. In fact, I believe this could serve as a model for other departments that are reviewing their classification systems.

We accepted a number of recommendations from the National Academy of Science's Declassification Panel, led by Richard Meserve. We owe him a great debt of gratitude for his public service on this complicated and challenging task, and for his continuing commitment to openness as Chairman of DOE's Openness Advisory Panel. Dr. Meserve is also with us today. Welcome and thank you, Dr. Meserve.

One significant product of this public dialogue is that the Departments of Energy and Defense have agreed to declassify the largest number of previously classified nuclear data in our history. We are declassifying 70 different items.

Let me give you a couple of examples of where we are removing the fences from around previously classified information. We will now make public the existence of any chemical, isotope, metal or other substance at our sites. This information, which often has been classified because of its association with nuclear weapons activities, is also important to communities that want to conduct a full environmental assessment of a site.

The State of Tennessee, for example, has spent millions of dollars working with us to obtain and declassify exactly this kind of information. We once classified the fact that we had many tons of mercury at our Oak Ridge facility in Tennessee. In the future, because of national security needs, we might not be able to reveal the quantities of a substance or what it is used for, but the public and our workers have a right to know that a dangerous substance is present at a site near their homes and businesses.

We also are declassifying information that will allow communities to understand the maximum potential risk associated with the transportation of nuclear materials. This is invaluable information and the public has a right to know it.

We believe we can declassify this kind of information without compromising our national security. And it will increase public knowledge, trust and confidence in the Department of Energy.

At the same time, we also need to build higher fences around smaller quantities of information critical to our national security. In that regard, we have identified two major areas of classified information that will be upgraded from "secret" to "top secret."

Those areas are certain details of nuclear weapons design, and the protections we have in place to prevent a stolen nuclear weapon from ever being used. By better protecting this vital information, we will reduce the possibility that terrorists or rogue states could develop a nuclear weapon or detonate a stolen weapon.

My second major action today is to sign a final rule which now formalizes our commitment to openness. For the first time, we will regulate how the Department and the federal government conducts its classification and declassification of nuclear information. Again, we accomplished this after a full and open dialogue with the public.

This rule makes it easier for the public to learn about any of our activities that might affect their communities and their families. For example, we have established a formal process that allows the public to question why we classify information. Previously, DOE was not required to explain to the public why nuclear information was classified. Now, if we don't have a legitimate reason, based on national security needs, the data will not be classified.

Another change in our classification policies is a reversal in the burden of proof about classification. Previously, all information about our nuclear weapons production activities was assumed to be "born classified." Starting today, that assumption is gone and we will only classify when there is a compelling national security interest.

For example, the rule I am signing today prohibits the Department from classifying information about our nuclear activities that is solely related to public and worker health and safety or environmental quality. Two plutonium fires occurred more than 30 years ago at our Rocky Flats production site near Denver. Those incidents remained classified for decades despite their importance to the surrounding community. With today's new rule, many key aspects of that incident related to safety and health would be made public.

Unprecedented Volumes

More than 270,000 pages of newly declassified documents about DOE's operation at Hanford, Washington are being put on our Internet Web site, OpenNet. Hanford was the site of much of our former plutonium production. The information we are providing today ranges from routine production operations, such as how many workers were present and what their tasks were, to early environmental impact analyses in the 1950s that tracked airborne substances originating from Hanford's production.

This nearly doubles the number of declassified pages available in full text on OpenNet and significantly improves public access to important environmental, health and safety information. We have declassified this information because we hope it will contribute to increasing the public's trust and confidence in their government.

And I would note that this is the fourth year in a row that the Department of Energy is declassifying more pages of information than we are classifying.

We are also releasing 15 films that depict the fascinating history of our early nuclear weapons testing efforts. Some of these films may be considered disturbing -- and others are inspiring. They are inspiring because they document a period of time when men and women in the Department and the U.S. armed forces were fighting the Cold War. The people depicted in these films were brave and dedicated -- and we should honor their achievements.

But the films can be disturbing because they may jar our modern day sensibilities. They capture, for example, footage of experiments on live animals. What's important to remember is that by releasing these films we are giving historians and the public a greater understanding of this dramatic episode in our nation's history and how it contributed to our national security.

One of the clips you'll see is from the Sedan nuclear test. When I recently visited the Nevada Test Site, I flew over an enormous crater -- the remnant from the 1962 Sedan Plowshare nuclear test. Plowshare was an effort to determine if nuclear explosions could be used for public works projects or for other commercial purposes. For example, tests were made to dig canals and explore for oil and gas. Twenty-seven Plowshare tests took place.

Today we are releasing previously classified information about the explosive power, or yield, of 11 of those tests. With this action, DOE has now declassified all 27 Plowshare yields.

Our final release of declassified information today involves three plutonium, tritium and enriched uranium exchanges, the last in 1979, between the United Kingdom and the U.S. We gave the U.K. tritium and enriched uranium, and in return we received plutonium from the U.K. Here today is Neil MacLean, who is Head of the Atomic Coordinating Office in the U.K.'s embassy in Washington.

I would like to congratulate the government of the United Kingdom for working with us on this important effort. This release of information is taking place because government officials from both of our countries recognized the importance of this declassification effort to nuclear non-proliferation. Thank you, Mr. MacLean.

We want the public to have a full understanding of the world's inventory and accounting of plutonium to ensure that even small amounts are not being diverted without our knowledge. The details we are making public today will allow a closer accounting of U.S. plutonium inventories and will further our philosophy of transparency, which is critical to our nuclear nonproliferation efforts worldwide.


The third step I am taking today is proposing two new whistleblower rules. One rule will increase the fair treatment of individuals who report potential misconduct about any of the Department's activities, for example a health violation or allegations of fraud. The other rule will encourage our contractors to take fuller responsibility for their actions. Let me discuss these proposed new rules.

Let me close by reading portions of a letter that the Department received last week from Dr. Edward Teller, the scientific giant responsible for many of our most important breakthroughs in nuclear technology. Dr. Teller wanted to be here today, but could not travel due to illness. But the father of the hydrogen bomb feels so strongly about openness that he wanted his views known. He wrote:

"I...suggest that we adopt a very general policy of openness in all matters with the only exception of important technical details. In this connection, I would also like to mention two reasons where secrecy of the general ideas is harmful.

"One is that secrecy interferes with the general understanding of the public, and that a soundly-based public opinion is a basic necessity in our country. The second reason is that our policy of secrecy impedes our enforcing openness worldwide. Without such openness, we are exposed to dangerous surprises."

Dr. Teller concluded: "[I]t will not be easy to persuade everybody else to openness, at least concerning principles and the general outline of activities. If this difficulty can be solved, it will open up powerful possibilities of international cooperation."

Today, I can assure Dr. Teller and the rest of our nation that the Department of Energy is committed to creating those "powerful possibilities" that increase public trust in our government...that contribute to world peace through nuclear nonproliferation...and that build a greater tomorrow for future generations of Americans.