Wednesday, February 8, 2006

Public's need to know

Since the nuclear genie was uncorked to end World War II, several generations have been warned about the terrifying power of nuclear weapons as well as the equally fearsome consequences of nuclear accidents.

This is no time, then, for the Department of Energy to be coy about keeping the public informed of accidents, small as they might be, at the Idaho National Laboratory west of Idaho Falls.

As one of the nation's premier scientific facilities working with and storing nuclear materials, INL's need for secrecy involving national defense projects is understandable.

But the public not only has a right but a need to know about on-site accidents that could affect INL workers and others who live in nearby communities.

A propane line leak last year, which led to evacuation of hundreds of workers, was followed by regular announcements about repair progress. Now, having promised further such reports on accidents, the Energy Department is having second thoughts after environmental watchdog groups insisted reports contain sequence numbers to ensure all accidents are being reported.

For any other institution to falter on such a promise could be charged off as a snit. But when a federal agency charged with managing nuclear materials and waste looks for an excuse to conceal or temporize accident information, reasonable people understandably could conclude it's an effort at deeper secrecy by government. Or, worse, an excuse for keeping the public in the dark about possible dangers occurring in their backyard.

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