My Days Among Nuclear Secrets

In 1979, I took an editing job in Washington, D.C. I was assigned one volume in a multipart study on the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons. It was called, in appropriately bureaucratic fashion, the Nonproliferation Alternative Systems Assessment Program (NASAP). It was, needless to say, an assignment I took very seriously. My job mostly took place in Seattle — I was an early adopter of remote work. But every few weeks, I got on a redeye flight to Washington, D.C. for in-person meetings. At least one visit found me with an electric razor, shaving in a taxi cab.

Fuel Cycle

My assigned chapter focused on the nuclear fuel cycle. It was clear that if a “rogue state” were to get nuclear weapons, one of the most direct routes was to compromise the end-to-end fuel supply for commercial nuclear power plants. The ability to divert and refine nuclear fuel was — and is — a surefire path to the creation of weapons-grade fissionable materials. Atomic bomb components.

DRAFT NASAP Document, Volume IX (courtesy U.S. DOE)

My chapter was 600 pages long and a structural shitshow. The engineer assigned to the chapter knew his stuff. But putting it into a coherent narrative seemed beyond him. That was my job. It took months to fix it. Yes, we were on a deadline.

Old AEC Headquarters Bldg., Germantown, Maryland (courtesy U.S. DOE)

Although I had at least two “get acquainted” meetings at the engineer’s home in the D.C. area, most of my on-site work took place at the old Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) headquarters in Germantown, MD., 23 miles northwest of Washington, D.C. That location was not an accident. It was thought to be far enough away from central D.C. to survive the blast effects of a thermonuclear attack on the Nation’s capitol. Or at least it was in 1956, when it was built.

Do not go into the hallways without an escort. You will be arrested.

NASAP Sponsor, Atomic Energy Commission Bldg.

Nuclear Secrets

Getting there involved a bucolic drive past Maryland cornfields. Getting inside was an entirely different experience.

Old AEC Building, Germantown, MD (courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

It’s a secure building, because… nuclear power secrets… atomic bomb secrets. You need a clearance. You have to badge in and badge out. I didn’t have a badge. I was a visitor. So I needed an escort. Every day, I met my sponsor at the front desk entrance. He badged in and escorted me to my “office.” It held nothing more than a typewriter and a desk. Just what I needed.

Except for the warning.

The hallways were vast north-south corridors with short intersections. I rarely saw anyone walking them. Most employees — seemingly every single person — were in their offices. It reminded me of Sharples Junior High School in Seattle, where Mrs. Knutson, the vice-principal, made sure no one wandered her halls when classes were in session.

Only at the AEC, they had cops. With sidearms.

Where’s Lunch

My biggest challenge came at lunch. There was a wonderful cafeteria in the building but, of course, I needed an escort to get there. Most days that was a no-brainer. Someone came to get me. Except for one day.

My stomach was growling. The time had already ticked through noon, then slid past one o’clock. As it reached 1:30, I made a call. “Hey, did you guys forget about me? The cafeteria closes at two o’clock.”

My sponsor could not get there immediately. Sent a guard to pick me up instead. He was to escort me down to the cafeteria, where my sponsor would meet us. I took it as an opportunity.

“Hey,” I asked the guard, “would you arrest me if I was in the hallway without a badge?” “Yes,” he said. “We will.”

AEC Security Guard

Mar-A-Loco Parallels

I don’t know about you, but it seems to me there were an awful lot of people at Mar-A-Lago (MAL) who were just like I was in 1979. A civilian lacking appropriate credentials. But where were the security guards? Where were the standing orders to arrest anyone who was strolling down the hallway without a badge?

And yes, by the way, it’s immaterial as to whether or not MAL held nuclear secrets. Sure, some documents are “over-classified.” All of them? Nah. Every once in a while the government gets things exactly right. You gonna throw a dart to find out?

But, hey, if it’s true TFG can sprinkle fairy dust to declassify anything he wants, please have him contact me via this page. I want to see some of them docs, man. Come on, you can do that, right? I promise I won’t sell them.


Order “What Happened In Craig,” HERE and HERE. True crime from Epicenter Press.

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