The Nuclear-Secrets Fallout Has Landed

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He resisted it for a long time, but Energy Secretary Bill Richardson has finally acceded to demands for an agency to look after the nationís nuclear secrets. In a rather public about-face, Richardson has agreed to craft, along with Congress, the semi-autonomous Agency for Nuclear Stewardship, which will run the nationís three nuclear labs, the Nevada test site and various production plants. Simply put, says TIME Washington correspondent Elaine Shannon, "Congress made him do it." The frustration and anger over charges of Chinese espionage and lax lab security combined to produce a bipartisan consensus on "the need for a strong accountable entity" to ensure that nuclear security will not be compromised, she says.

Itís not that Richardson entirely disagreed with the consensus ó his main objection was the creation of yet another entity within the Energy Department. Over the years, the three semi-autonomous nuclear labs had been allowed "to develop and operate as fiefdoms," says Shannon, with their own one-on-one relations with Congress, for example. But the congressional pressure for a new agency was tough to beat back. And so Richardson has now signaled he is ready to deal, as long as the agency remains within his department and ultimately under the thumb of the secretary.