All air passengers to be screened for radioactivity

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All passengers, parcels and freight entering Britain will be screened for radioactivity to prevent terrorists smuggling weapons of mass destruction into the country, Jack Straw announced yesterday.

The Foreign Secretary said the Government had started screening traffic in British waters and airspace for radioactive materials and confirmed: "This will eventually cover all air, sea and Channel Tunnel traffic - passengers, parcels, vehicles, freight and containers."

He also announced plans to allow merchant ships suspected of carrying WMD to be boarded and said the Government was working to establish a new international offence of transporting WMD on commercial vessels.

In a written statement to MPs Mr Straw said the international community should consider a ban on nuclear fuel enrichment and processing activities by any nation found to have breached the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

"Countering proliferation remains as important today as it ever was," he said. "The part our intelligence services play in it is vital. We and they can be proud of what we have achieved over the past year. But we cannot let up. There is much work still to do. The proposals I have outlined are designed to assist that."

He said Britain hoped to negotiate agreements with the 10 major flag states for commercial shipping to allow suspect vessels to be boarded.

Mr Straw proposed that ships and planes of any country found to have transported illegal WMD might be denied landing and port rights worldwide and said an international register could be created of companies and individuals convicted of proliferation offences.

Mr Straw proposed banning states which fail to comply with agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency over reprocessing and enriching fuel.

His comments came just weeks after the scientist who led Pakistan's nuclear programme, Abdul Qadeer Khan, confessed to leaking nuclear technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea.

The Foreign Secretary said the UK had worked with the US to counter Dr Khan's network.

Customs officials are installing permanent screening machines at ports and airports to detect radioactive material being smuggled into the country after a three-month trial of the equipment at Dover, Felixstowe and Portsmouth. Mobile scanners capable of detecting radiation are also planned.

Mr Straw backed the prospect of a UN Security Council resolution calling on states to pass tough new laws outlawing the possession or manufacture of WMD and develop strong export controls. He also called for the establishment of a UN counter-proliferation committee to monitor progress.

A global partnership against the spread of WMD was established at last year's G8 summit when leaders of the world's wealthiest industrialised nations agreed to help destroy chemical stocks and decommission nuclear submarines in Russia.

Similar programmes have been established to cover Libya and Iraq and Mr Straw appealed to more countries to donate towards a $20bn (£10.7) fund for decommissioning and anti-proliferation work worldwide.