Admiral Stansfield Turner, who served under Jimmy Carter, and William Colby, President Ford's CIA director, joined a group including a
Nobel Prize-winning scientist and two nuclear weapons designers in an unprecedented appeal over the new plant, which is to recover plutonium from spent nuclear power station fuel from German and Japanese as well as British reactors.
Their letter was sent last week, in advance of tomorrow's final deadline for public comments on whether BNFL should be allowed to operate Thorp.
They allege that 'however great the precautions, Thorp operation and the transport of separated plutonium on this unprecedented scale will increase the risk that some of this material will fall into the hands of terrorists or will be diverted to military use by a nation aspiring to nuclear weapons.'
One of the signatories is Carson Mark, a bomb designer at the Los Alamos nuclear weapons laboratory in the United States. When head of the Los Alamos theoretical division, Dr Mark showed that reactor grade plutonium - similar to the material to be produced at Thorp - could be used to make a nuclear bomb.
For more than 15 years, it has been a matter of public record that in 1962, at its Nevada desert test site, the Americans successfully exploded a nuclear weapon made from reactor grade plutonium.
The British Government has always stonewalled on this issue and its Statement of Policy on Reprocessing and Operation of the Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant at Sellafield, published in July this year, commented only that 'It is not the Government's policy to comment on the details of any weapons tests which may be alleged to have been carried out.'
British Nuclear Fuels estimates that the company is losing pounds 2m for every week Thorp, built at a cost of about pounds 1.85bn, stands idle awaiting Government permission to start up. It is expected that permission will be forthcoming within the next couple of months, but the
environmental lobby group Greenpeace has promised that it will seek judicial review if
the Government gives the go- ahead without first holding a public inquiry.Reuse content