US sacks nuclear scientist in spy row

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AN UNNAMED computer scientist working at America's high-security nuclear weapons laboratory at Los Alamos, New Mexico, was dismissed from his job last night, as concern mounted in Washington about the damage that may have been inflicted on US security by Chinese espionage.

The scientist, an American citizen of Taiwanese origin, worked in the top secret weapons design department and had the requisite security clearance. An official at the Department of Energy, which is responsible for the Los Alamos laboratories, said that the man had not been arrested or charged with any offence.

According to The New York Times at the weekend, a Chinese-American scientist who had worked at Los Alamos since the Eighties was the chief suspect in what it said was a major spy scandal. Disclosing that the man had failed a lie-detector test earlier this year, the paper accused the Clinton Administration of withholding from Congress details of an intensive three-year old investigation, so as not to jeopardise its delicate rapprochement with China.

It claimed that the Chinese had been able to develop miniaturised nuclear warheads on the basis of a stolen US blueprint.

In an interview with CNN yesterday, the Energy Secretary, Bill Richardson, conceded that there could have been "serious damage" to US security and warned: "We will not tolerate the theft of our secrets."

The Chinese authorities have vehemently denied the spying charges.