Games 'nuclear plot' uncovered

Click to follow
The Independent Online

New Zealand detectives are investigating a group of Afghan refugees after details of a nuclear reactor near the Australian city of Sydney were allegedly found in their possession, raising fears of a possible terrorist attack during the Olympic Games.

New Zealand detectives are investigating a group of Afghan refugees after details of a nuclear reactor near the Australian city of Sydney were allegedly found in their possession, raising fears of a possible terrorist attack during the Olympic Games.

Detectives in Auckland said yesterday that they had stumbled on the apparent conspiracy during an investigation into the smuggling of people by organised crime syndicates. House raids in March uncovered evidence suggesting a conspiracy to attack the Lucas Heights reactor. A room in one home was allegedly turned into a command centre, with a conference table and maps.

But Australian officials played down the threat, saying there was no serious risk to the small research reactor in suburban southern Sydney, and said they had no plans to shut it down.

They found a Sydney street map highlighting the site of the reactor and access routes, and notebooks outlining police tactics and chains of command for the 1990 Commonwealth Games in Auckland.

Details have been passed to the Australian authorities. However, no arrest has been made since the raids in March, and Australian police said last night they were unaware of the New Zealand investigation.

The plot might have been hatched by Afghan sympathisers of Osama bin Laden, the Saudi-born dissident being sheltered in Afghanistan by the Taliban. Sources said members of what appears to be a cell of Afghan refugees in Auckland continue to have direct phone links with suspected terrorist organisations in Afghanistan.

Police say the cell they uncovered consisted of about 20 mainly Afghan refugees in Auckland who, they believe, may have been familiarising themselves with the Western way of doing things. The detectives had begun to suspect that some newcomers were using the relative obscurity and remoteness of New Zealand as a launching pad for more sinister activities. They found indications that some had undergone military training and been engaged in armed conflicts before being granted residency in New Zealand.

Such residency is thought to be especially attractive as possible terrorists are more likely to avoid suspicion when entering other countries on New Zealand passports, an investigator said.

The reports led to renewed calls from local residents and the environmental group Greenpeace to shut down the reactor in the suburb of Lucas Heights, at least for the duration of the Olympics.

Lucas Heights is 16 miles from the Olympic stadium in Homebush.

A similar reactor in Atlanta located near the Olympic site was closed down during the 1996 Olympics because of concerns that terrorists could commandeer the fuel.

Australia's Science Minister Nick Minchin said security would be tightened but the reactor would not be closed during the games because there was no credible threat to the facility or to the Olympics.

Nuclear experts at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organization determined last year that the threat of a serious attack "was very low and any threat to technology or material was also very low," he said. An update last week upheld that report, Minchin said.

"The ANSTO facility is a research reactor and, as such, its fundamental design greatly limits the risk to public safety from an accident," he said in a statement.

The 1950s-vintage nuclear reactor in a suburb in southern Sydney is not a power plant. It is used for scientific and medical research and operated by ANSTO.

The Lucas Heights reactor is tiny in comparison to an electricity-generating nuclear reactor, ANSTO said. It produces about 10 megawatts of thermal energy compared with 3,000 megawatts by a typical electricity-generating reactor.

Comments