Secret plans for burials on landfill sites

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The Independent Online

Ministers have drawn up secret plans to clear up to a million tons of contaminated rubble from London, and to evacuate its population, after a catastrophic terrorist attack. But they have failed to do the same for other cities in Britain, causing outrage among local authority emergency planners.

Ministers have drawn up secret plans to clear up to a million tons of contaminated rubble from London, and to evacuate its population, after a catastrophic terrorist attack. But they have failed to do the same for other cities in Britain, causing outrage among local authority emergency planners.

At the same time, as expectations grow of an attack in the wake of war with Iraq, public tours have been stopped at all Britain's nuclear power stations. It is feared terrorists could use the visits to work out how best to cause a disastrous radioactive release.

The clear-up plans envisage that an 11 September-type attack on Canary Wharf or the City of London could create a million tons of debris – 10 thousand times as much as resulted from the IRA's Bishopsgate bomb 10 years ago.

The plans have been developed by the London Resilience Team, a government-led body set up to cope with the aftermath of a terrorist attack. They recognise that, like the remains of New York's twin towers, the rubble could be heavily contaminated with human DNA that could not be separated from it. The places where it was deposited could therefore become mass graves. Rubbish landfill sites in Essex are the most favoured final resting places, to which the rubble could be moved down the Thames by barge.

The team – overseen by representatives of four government departments, the Mayor of London, emergency services and transport operators – also has plans to empty the capital by turning arterial roads into evacuation "expressways" after, for example, the explosion of a radioactive "dirty" bomb.

Both lanes of trunk roads like the Finchley Road/A41, Westway/A40 and Rochester Road/A2 would carry only outbound traffic; all traffic lights would be set to green; and access from side roads would be blocked off.

Meanwhile fire, ambulance and other emergency services would be streaming into the city centre along side roads, which would be kept free for them.

But emergency planners elsewhere in the country are furious that the measures have been overwhelmingly concentrated on London, even though terrorists may well strike outside the capital.

As if to confirm their fears, The Independent on Sunday can reveal that a top secret Cabinet Office working group decided last month to ignore any need to clear rubble outside the capital.

A two-hour meeting of the Mass Evacuation and Site Clearance Workshop, held on 21 February, concluded that as most of the plans for clearing rubble in London had been completed, the issue could now be given a much lower priority. The group resolved that there was "little potential in the rest of the UK for destruction on a scale that would require special arrangements for clearance".

The revelation will deepen a rift between civil servants drawing up plans for dealing with terrorist incidents and local authority emergency planners. The local planners have been infuriated by officials from London turning up to tell them what to do without providing more money and equipment to enable them to react effectively.

"We are ahead of the game in the regions," said one, "but the civil service has moved with extreme lack of urgency. Many of them do not seem to know much about the subject."

The stopping of guided tours at nuclear power plants is also being attacked as enormously belated. British Nuclear Fuels banned the tours at its controversial Sellafield complex and six of its nuclear power stations within weeks of 11 September. But it has taken 18 months for British Energy to follow suit at the eight stations it owns.

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