Row brews over 'secret' nuclear files

NUCLEAR industry officials have agreed to discuss access to “secret” Sizewell B documents following a claim that the public has a right to know the extent of the risk of a terrorist strike.

By David Green

NUCLEAR industry officials have agreed to discuss access to “secret” Sizewell B documents following a claim that the public has a right to know the extent of the risk of a terrorist strike.

Lack of public access to the documents - on the advice of the security services - was described by a leading environmental consultant yesterday as a “scandal”.

Sizewell B, British Energy's flagship plant, is considered one of the high risk industrial targets for terrorists, although the company insists that the deliberate crashing of an aircraft on to the reactor dome is unlikely to lead to a catastrophic release of radioactivity.

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However, Pete Wilkinson, who runs a national environmental consultancy from offices at Halesworth, has expressed concern about the vulnerability to terrorist attack of another part of the plant - the concrete and steel-lined “pond” where highly radioactive spent fuel rods are stored.

Mr Wilkinson, a member of the Government-appointed Committee on Radioactive Waste Management, has been unable to obtain access to documents assessing the risk of a terrorist strike leading to the loss of the 1,400 tonnes of coolant water.

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A British Energy statement made available at yesterday's meeting of the Sizewell Stakeholder Group - set up to improve liaison between the nuclear site, safety watchdogs and the local community - claimed the possibility of the fuel elements being uncovered was “extremely unlikely”.

While sketchy details were given as to why the possibility was remote, it emerged that a longer version of the statement had been cut on the advice of the security services.

Mr Wilkinson said he could see no justification for the documents not being made available to the public because terrorists would be well aware of the vulnerability of the fuel pond.

“You are doing yourselves a disservice by not putting these documents in the public domain,” he told industry officials and inspectors from the nuclear safety watchdog.

The inspectors, Peter Rothwell and Len Bruce, said certain details could not be released into the public domain because of the risk of them falling into the “wrong” hands.

They were “happy” with the arguments put forward by British Energy to back its insistence that the fuel pond is sufficiently robust and that adequate emergency systems are in place.

But Mr Wilkinson retorted: “I want to know what your happiness is based on.”

He said the public was faced with a risk posed by private enterprise and had a right to scrutinise documents which might reassure them.

Although he accepted the sensitivity of the issue, denial of public access to the information was a “scandal”, he suggested.

“This community is at risk from a very hazardous installation run by private enterprise.

“I've got two children and when the balloon goes up I will want to know when to pack the car and get out,” Mr Wilkinson said.

Although similar information was available in the United States under its freedom of information laws, he wanted to see the detailed safety case in respect of the Sizewell B installation.

Joan Girling, who represents Ipswich MP Chris Mole on the committee, said absence of the documents in the public domain caused mystery and suspicion and caused more angst.

“If there is a good reason for not having this information we want to know it. We have to have trust and when it is eroded away you have a problem,” she told officials.

Mark Gorry , Sizewell B station director, said Mr Wilkinson's request for information had been carefully considered but the advice of security advisers could not be ignored.

“I don't want to prevent you having access to anything,” he said.

Mr Gorry and another British Energy official, Tony Free, suggested it might be possible for Mr Wilkinson to be given personal access to the documents he required.

However, they said it was likely that security clearance would be needed.

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