LETTER:Watching out for nuclear terrorism

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The Independent Online
From Mr John Byfield

Sir: In his article "Brent Spar: a hollow victory" (23 June), the director- general of the British Nuclear Industry Forum writes about the need for better communication between the nuclear industry and the public. Having retired from many years' professional employment on reactor operation and safety in the UK Atomic Energy Authority (when I was privy to the most sensitive information), I have for a considerable time been attempting to ascertain from friends and ex-colleagues how the increased threat in the last decade (ie, post-Cold War) of UK nuclear installations being bombed has been evaluated.

My first shock was to learn from the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII) that

the danger of a nuclear power station being bombed in a terrorist attack, causing releases of radioactivity to the atmosphere, falls beyond our remit [my italics].

My inquiry was passed by the NII to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) from whom a completely uninformative reply was received, couched in terms which, in my former employment, would have been derisory as a safety justification. My own MP later obtained a similarly meaningless response from Charles Wardle MP, then Parliamentary Under Secretary of State in the DTI.

I then wrote to John Collier, chairman of Nuclear Electric (a friend and ex-colleague since the early 1960s), who excused his paucity of response for reasons of security. He explained that, under a memorandum of understanding, the company

is guided by the Government Security Service on threats of terrorism, sabotage and other malevolent activity and on the specific measures which should be taken to protect nuclear power stations from such threats.

Beyond this he would not elaborate, except to remind me that this question of sabotage was an issue considered by the Sizewell B inquiry.

I find it disturbing in the extreme that the NII has responsibility for considering all safety aspects in great depth except the now very plausible scenario that some extremist could crash an explosives-laden aircraft (or some other mode of delivery) on a nuclear station with a result which the NII is not allowed to assess.

The populace of the nation are encouraged to rely upon the NII to act as watchdog, ostensibly without exceptions to its remit. Since this is clearly not the case, it is crucial that several questions be answered. For starters, who are the people associated with the memorandum of understanding who possess in-depth knowledge of specific reactor design details equal to that of the NII? And where is the independence intentionally vested in the NII?

Yours faithfully

John Byfield

Sherborne, Dorset

10 July