Op-Ed

Hazel O’Leary Does Us a Favor by Declassifying Data

Stephen I. Schwartz

Former Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger recently testified that he strongly supports transferring responsibility for nuclear weapons research, development, testing, production, dismantlement and cleanup from the Department of Energy to the Department of Defense because of his “very considerable concern” over the “unilateral and wholesale declassifying of vital nuclear information by the current secretary” (“GOP senators resist bid to unplug Energy,” Nation, Sept. 5).

For the record, since December 1993 Energy Secretary Hazel R. O’Leary, with the cooperation and approval of the Defense Department (which by law maintains joint responsibility for the classification and declassification of much of the data concerning the nuclear arsenal) has selectively declassified the following “vital nuclear information”:

  • the total annual megatonnage from 1945-1994.
  • the total annual number of nuclear weapons in the arsenal from 1949-1961.
  • the number of nuclear weapons retired annually from 1948-1989 and the annual disassembly rate from 1980-April 1994 — 47,810 total retirements and 18,113 total disassemblies.
  • the total number of U.S. nuclear weapons tests and actual devices detonated — 1,030 and 1,126, respectively.
  • the explosive yields of 77 nuclear weapons tests between 1951-1986 (yields for many other tests have been declassified by prior administrations).
  • Four hundred and sixty documents concerning nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands between 1946-1962.
  • the amount of plutonium expended in nuclear weapons tests — 3.4 metric tons.
  • total weapons-grade plutonium, fuel-grade plutonium and highly-enriched uranium (HEU) production (90.6, 12.9, and 994 metric tons, respectively), including production totals for the Savannah River Site in South Carolina (36.1 metric tons) and the Hanford Reservation in Washington state (67.4 metric tons).
  • the amount of plutonium acquired from U.S. civilian reactors and foreign countries (principally Great Britain) — 1.7 metric tons and 5.7 metric tons, respectively.
  • total foreign transfers of plutonium (largely under the Atoms for Peace initiative) — 0.7 metric tons.
  • annual lithium-6 production at the Y-12 Plant in Oak Ridge, Tenn., between 1954-1963 — 442.4 metric tons total.
  • the inventory of plutonium and HEU at selected DOE production facilities and laboratories, including the amounts designated as excess by President Clinton (38.2 metric tons and 174.3 metric tons, respectively).
  • current and historical inventory differences for weapons-grade plutonium and HEU at selected DOE facilities.
  • the historical and current inventory of depleted uranium at the Rocky Flats Plant (Colorado) — 262 metric tons currently.
  • experimental data on inertial confinement fusion.
  • historical data on the use and atmospheric releases of mercury at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory — 24 million pounds and 750,000 pounds, respectively.
  • historical data on annual atmospheric releases of tritium from specific buildings at the Savannah River Site between 1955-1993 (sitewide totals were never classified) — 16.41 million curies total.
  • summary information on a 1962 nuclear test that utilized reactor-grade plutonium.
  • the amount of weapons-grade plutonium involved in catastrophic fires at the Rocky Flats Plant in 1957 and 1969 (3,651 kilograms) and redacted versions of the official Atomic Energy Commission final reports on these fires.
  • documents concerning 435 human radiation experiments conducted between 1944 and the present.

While Mr. Weinberger apparently believes otherwise, none of this information — which has now been widely available for seven months to almost three years — divulges anything which would help anyone to construct, steal, or sabotage a nuclear weapon, or glean details about the operational characteristics of U.S. nuclear forces. Furthermore, much of it could have been declassified long ago, with tangible economic and security benefits for the country.

Mrs. O’Leary has performed a valuable public service in providing for the release this essential historical data.