Energy secretary is surprised by nuclear disclosure

Energy Secretary Steven Chu conceded on Wednesday he was caught off guard by the unauthorized dissemination of "highly confidential" documents showing the whereabouts of stockpiles of nuclear weapons and fuel.

At a House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee hearing, Chu acknowledged that he learned about Monday's release of "highly confidential material" on a Web site devoted to federal secrecy issues from media reports.

Chu said the online publication of 266 pages of information was "of great concern," and he planned to step up security measures to prevent terrorists from gaining access to nuclear materials. Chu said that "someone made a mistake, probably at the Government Printing Office." The material has since been withdrawn from a GPO Web site. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Wednesday asked GAO to investigate the release.

During the hearing Chu tried to put to rest any idea that Yucca Mountain might still become a storage facility for nuclear waste. "Yucca Mountain as a long-term repository is off the table," Chu said, despite the lack of alternative sites and the billions spent in studies. But Energy and Water Appropriations subcommittee ranking member Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., criticized shuttering Yucca "irresponsibly" without alternatives. Chu said he plans to appoint a blue-ribbon panel to find alternatives.

The department budget includes $197 million to implement President Obama's termination of Yucca Mountain as a waste site and find other geological repositories. Chu also told the panel he expects to have 50 percent of the department's $38.7 billion economic stimulus allotment dispensed by Labor Day. Frelinghuysen also questioned how the United States could continue nuclear nonproliferation efforts without additional funding for the Energy Department.

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