Q clearance is a United States Department of Energy (DOE) security clearance that is more or less equivalent to a United States Department of Defense Top Secret (TS) clearance. Much of the DoE information at this level requires collateral access to Critical Nuclear Weapon Design Information (CNWDI, pronounced "KWIN-dee" or sometimes "SIN-widee").  Such information bears the page marking TOP SECRET//CNWDI and the paragraph marking (TS-N). Note that there is also a Department of Energy "Top Secret" clearance, which is, in fact, rather more limited.
DOE clearances apply for access specifically relating to atomic or nuclear related materials ("Restricted Data" under the Atomic Energy Act of 1954). The clearance is issued predominantly to non-military personnel. In 1946 U.S. Army Counter Intelligence Corps Major William L. Uanna, in his capacity as the first Chief of the Central Personnel Clearance Office at the newly formed Atomic Energy Commission, named and established the criteria for the Q Clearance.
There are actually two types of Q clearance: Q-sensitive, abbreviated Q(S), and Q-nonsensitive, abbreviated Q(NS). The difference is that both have access to TOP SECRET Formerly Restricted Data (FRD) and National Security Information (NSI), but Q(S) can access TOP SECRET Restricted Data (RD) whereas Q(NS) can only access Restricted Data up to the SECRET level.
As of 1993[update], Q clearances required a single-scope background investigation of the previous ten years of the applicant's life by both the Office of Personnel Management and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and as of 1998[update] cost $3,225.
In popular culture
Actor Charlton Heston once held a "Q" Clearance for six years when he served as a nuclear armament topics training film narrator for the military during his post-World War II military service years.
In season 6, episode 7, Archer claims to hold Q-clearance in an attempt to access a highly restricted USAF base.
- Security | UK-USA Classification Equivalency Table | Los Alamos National Laboratory
- William Burr, Thomas S. Blanton, and Stephen I. Schwartz, "The Costs and Consequences of Nuclear Secrecy" in Stephen I. Schwartz, ed., Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of US Nuclear Weapons Since 1940 (Brookings Institution Press, 1998): 433-483; figures from Box 8-4, "Typical Costs of Security Investigations", on 461.
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