Terror warning over power station

A LEADING international expert on nuclear safety and security has warned that Sizewell B power station could be a key target for terrorists.Dr Gordon Thompson, executive director of the Institute for Resource and Security Studies in the United States, said a successful attack on the coastal Suffolk station was among the "worst case scenarios" that terrorists could inflict upon Britain.

By Jonathan Barnes

A LEADING international expert on nuclear safety and security has warned that Sizewell B power station could be a key target for terrorists.

Dr Gordon Thompson, executive director of the Institute for Resource and Security Studies in the United States, said a successful attack on the coastal Suffolk station was among the "worst case scenarios" that terrorists could inflict upon Britain.

He fears the station could be an attractive target because of its proximity to London and said contamination from a radioactive release could spread to an area covering hundreds of miles.


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Dr Thompson, who is based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is due to speak at a conference in Ireland tomorrow about the terrorist threat to nuclear installations and call for greater security at power stations.

He will tell delegates at the Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) conference that terrorists have the methods and resources to mount an attack – by land or air – while power stations still reveal worrying vulnerabilities.

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Dr Thompson, a university research professor who has lectured on security issues for more than 25 years, believes the most serious risk is to spent fuel storage ponds, which he claims are housed in more vulnerable buildings than nuclear reactors.

He said an attack on the pools could result in the loss of water that cools and shields the spent fuel. That fuel could then overheat and ignite, with disastrous consequences.

If an attack on Sizewell B caused a spent fuel pond to overheat, it would rate among one of the "worse case scenarios", the expert added.

"We must recognise that, to terrorists, nuclear installations are pre-deployed radiological weapons within the countries they would most like to hit," said Dr Thompson.

"The radioactive release from Chernobyl in 1986, which resulted in contamination hundreds of kilometres away, has given us a glimpse of the scale of the disaster we can expect if radioactive materials escape from a nuclear installation.

"The consequences could be far worse if a successful terrorist attack caused a spent fuel pond or a high-level waste tank to overheat.

"The risks from the threat of terrorism are grave, and governments must think very carefully about these risks before making any decision to expand nuclear power programmes."

Charles Barnett, chairman of Shut Down Sizewell campaign, said: "There is no real defence against a nuclear power station – the only way is to close them down as soon as possible.

"De-fuelling a nuclear power station takes about three years so if we don't grasp the nettle now, close them down and de-fuel them, sooner or later there is going to be a terrorist attack."

Martin Pearce, spokesman for Sizewell B, said the station worked closely with industry regulator, the Office for Civil Nuclear Security (OCNS), and adhered to its guidance and advice.

Mike Dennehy, spokesman for the Department of Trade and Industry, said: "The UK's civil nuclear sites apply stringent security measures regulated by the OCNS.

"Security at nuclear sites is kept under regular review in the light of the prevailing threat and has been significantly enhanced since the terrorist attacks in the USA on September 11, 2001. 

"It is not Government policy to disclose details of these measures which could potentially be of use to terrorists."

The NFLA conference, Nuclear Energy: Does It Have a Future?, is taking place in Drogheda, County Louth, Ireland, today and tomorrow.

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