WASHINGTON — The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has shut down its online document library, pending a review to determine what potentially sensitive documents should be removed because they might be useful to terrorists, the agency said Tuesday.
While the agency’s Web site does not contain classified material, the NRC “is widening its review to remove additional information that could potentially be of use to a terrorist,” the agency said in a statement.
The action came after a report by NBC News that among the items found on the NRC Web site were detailed information on the location of radioactive substances, generally used in medicine and for industrial purposes, that could be used to make a so-called dirty bomb.
Floor plans, room numbers and color-coded maps
NBC News reported Monday night that its investigative team was able to find a freezer of radioactive material in an unguarded hallway of a medical school in the Washington area based on information available on the NRC site.
The data included detailed building diagrams that pinpointed the location of the material in hospitals and other facilities, complete with helpful color codes to indicate the most dangerous material, NBC’s Lisa Myers reported. At an East Coast hospital, NBC News was able to walk up to the door — identified by number on the NRC Web site — where radioactive material was stored near its blood bank.
NBC News said it would not identify the facilities for security reasons.
“This Web site can provide a road map to a terrorist,” Charles Ferguson, a former specialist in radiological weapons at the State Department, told NBC News. “It shows them exactly where they need to go to find dangerous radioactive materials.”
The agency initially defended the documents when approached by NBC News last week, the network said, but by Monday evening, it had shut down the library.
Public access shut down
As part of the review, the NRC said it temporarily closed public access to its online document library, its electronic hearing docket files, and to NRC staff documents related to NRC consideration of a high-level nuclear waste repository.
“This action, when completed, is intended to ensure that documents which might provide assistance to terrorists will be inaccessible while maintaining public access to information regarding NRC activities,” the agency said.
After the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, more than 1,000 documents were removed from the NRC’s Web site. Additional documents disappeared in subsequent reviews.
“Agency guidelines provide that any information that could be useful, or could reasonably be expected to be useful, to a terrorist in a potential attack should be withheld,” said the NRC statement.
Correspondent Lisa Myers with the NBC News investigative team and The Associated Press contributed to this report.