Letter: Sellafield lapses

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The Independent Culture
Sir: We have recently written a paper to show how plutonium could be separated from diverted Mixed Oxide Fuel (MOX) pellets and how it could be assembled into a nuclear explosive.

This could be achieved by a single chemist and nuclear physicist supported by a small number of good technicians and all of the necessary scientific information for this is available in the open literature. The necessary materials could be purchased without arousing suspicion.

BNFL spokesman Ms Lount is reported ("Inside building B33, Britain's most risky recycling operation may be going wrong", 14 September) as stating that this is rubbish. However, the Ministry of Defence and Foreign Office agree that plutonium can be separated from MOX pellets and can be assembled into a weapon.

Ms Lount points to transport by sea and claims that MOX is well safeguarded. There are far weaker links. As MOX becomes increasingly used as nuclear fuel it will also be transported globally by air, rail and road, hugely increasing the opportunities for theft.

There is also the risk that workers will steal fuel pellets during fuel element assembly and handling, a risk increased by the small size and low radioactivity of the pellets. Few workers could resist the sort of enticement that terrorist groups and non-nuclear states could afford.

In this connection the falsification of records in the MOX plant ("Inspectors sent in as Sellafield admits to serious safety lapses", 14 September) is worrying, to say the least.