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Dounreay Stockpile Details Withheld

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THE UK Atomic Energy Authority has succeeded in keeping private details about enriched uranium and plutonium stockpiles at Dounreay. Disclosing the information could help terrorists gain access to potential bomb-making materials, deputy UK Information Commissioner Richard Thomas has ruled.

In the first case of its kind, Mr Thomas upheld the UKAEA's refusal to hand over seven files to Edinburgh-based environmental journalist Rob Edwards. Mr Thomas claimed disclosure could have "a far-reaching impact on the national security of the UK".

Mr Edwards had sought information relating to fissile materials held at the UKAEA's defunct fast-reactor site. After having his initial request knocked back in March 2006, he used Freedom of Information legislation in a bid to force the UKAEA to hand over the data.

THE UK Atomic Energy Authority has succeeded in keeping private details about enriched uranium and plutonium stockpiles at Dounreay. Disclosing the information could help terrorists gain access to potential bomb-making materials, deputy UK Information Commissioner Richard Thomas has ruled.

In the first case of its kind, Mr Thomas upheld the UKAEA's refusal to hand over seven files to Edinburgh-based environmental journalist Rob Edwards. Mr Thomas claimed disclosure could have "a far-reaching impact on the national security of the UK".

Mr Edwards had sought information relating to fissile materials held at the UKAEA's defunct fast-reactor site. After having his initial request knocked back in March 2006, he used Freedom of Information legislation in a bid to force the UKAEA to hand over the data.

The files comprise information about the layout and content of the high-active stores and their security systems, staffing arrangements and hazard assessments. The UKAEA maintained that putting this in the public domain could help terrorists access the materials, with the attendant risks to workers at the site and to national security. It specifically cited the risk of material being stolen to make a "dirty" bomb. The authority also raised concern about nuclear proliferation.

Releasing the information, it claimed, would conflict with its obligations under the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act and the Nuclear Industries Security Regulations. The UKAEA acknowledged that releasing the information could contribute to public knowledge and a better understanding of health-and-safety issues. But it said this was outweighed by the potential security and safety concerns.

In his ruling, Mr Thomas agreed that disclosure of the information would adversely affect both national security and public safety. He said: "I consider that the files directly relate to the storage facilities of nuclear material, details of the building layout and the security arrangements at those sites.

"It is necessary to withhold this information on the basis that disclosure could enable persons to gain access to materials, which could have a far-reaching impact on the national security of the UK."

The UKAEA originally withheld 11 files requested by Mr Edwards but later agreed to release four. Mr Edwards has 28 days in which to lodge an appeal.