David Blunkett is to increase the powers of Britain's 500-strong nuclear police force amid increased fears of terrorist attacks.
The Home Secretary plans to give the specialist force, which includes highly trained firearms officers, powers to mount patrols and stop and search for up to three miles outside nuclear sites.
The UK Atomic Energy Authority Constabulary (UKAEAC) will be authorised to make arrests at other civil sites, including sea ports, airports and railway stations, to prevent terrorists attempting to seize nuclear materials in transit.
Mr Blunkett's plans, which will form part of an Emergency Anti-Terrorism Bill to be presented to Parliament this month, coincide with warnings of terrorist attacks by the world watchdog for nuclear security.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, based in Vienna, warned on Thursday of the danger of terrorists "targeting nuclear facilities or using radioactive sources to incite panic, contaminate property and even cause injury or death among civilian populations".
Britain's nuclear police are stationed at eight sites, including Sellafield in Cumbria, Harwell in Oxfordshire and Dounreay in Caithness. The sites are owned by three nuclear power companies: BNFL, UKAEA and Urenco.
Mr Blunkett, who hopes his Bill will become law by early next year, plans to give the force further powers to police nuclear power stations such as those at Dungeness in Kent and Sizewell B in Suffolk, which are patrolled by private security companies.
A Home Office source said: "The Home Secretary feels these powers are needed for the proper protection of nuclear sites, material and technology against the risks from terrorists and others.
"In the light of the threat that is prevalent at the moment he hopes the Bill will have a speedy passage."
Sources at the UKAEAC said the force intended to sign memorandums of understanding with neighbouring forces to allow its officers to patrol and search within a three-mile radius of nuclear sites.
The changes are likely to mean that the size of the nuclear force is increased so that resources are not overstretched at existing sites.
The nuclear force, which has its headquarters at Abingdon, Oxfordshire, was set up in 1955 with an initial complement of 320 officers and has grown with the expansion of the nuclear industry.
Last night Bill Pryke, Chief Constable of the UKAEAC, said that he and his team had been "working closely" with the Government to draw up the proposed increase in powers.
He said: "We look forward to working with the Government and the director of civil nuclear security, Michael Buckland-Smith, to implement whatever measures come forward from this proposed legislation."
There are additional concerns regarding the security of small amounts of nuclear material kept for medical and scientific use at hospitals and research sites.
Even small amounts of radioactive material could be attached to a normal high-explosive device to create a so-called "dirty bomb", which could contaminate whole cities.
Mr Blunkett is also proposing to give increased authority and powers to the British Transport Police to allow members to make arrests outside their current jurisdiction of railway property.Reuse content