19 November 2001 00:26 GMT


British nuclear secrets on web

Blunkett's Terror Bill " as police prepare for crackdown, the MoD makes an embarrassing gaffe

By Severin Carrell, Geoffrey Lean and Colin Brown

18 November 2001

Defence ministers have published details about the movement of nuclear bombs and plutonium throughout Britain, in apparent contravention of David Blunkett's attempt to crack down on nuclear terrorism.
They have released a list of scores of British cities, towns and counties through which lorries and trains carry the bombs and dangerous nuclear materials.
The publication of the details, on the MoD website, is a blow to the Home Secretary's counter-terrorism plans, which will suffer another reverse this Tuesday when 17 Labour MPs, including two former ministers, lead a Commons rebellion.
Mr Blunkett has been fighting criticism of his proposals, emphasising the threat from UK elements sympathetic to Osama bin Laden. "He said they would be getting more desperate and the risks of a terrorist attack were greater, not less," said a ministerial source.
Former ministers Mark Fisher and Peter Kilfoyle have joined the rebellion led by Bob Marshall-Andrews QC. The group also includes two select committee chairmen, Gwyneth Dunwoody and Tony Wright.
The publication of nuclear bomb transport routes - the most detailed disclosure of its kind - appears to challenge one of the toughest of Mr Blunkett's proposed measures. The new Bill makes it an offence punishable with seven years in jail to disclose any information which "might prejudice the security of any nuclear site or of any nuclear material". It makes this a graver offence than actually endangering the security of the sites and materials themselves, which is punishable by two years in jail.
The 59-page report - Defence Nuclear Materials Transport Contingency Arrangements - is intended to help the police, fire brigades and local councils draft emergency plans in case of an accident.
But it could offer potential terrorists a guide to the rail lines, roads and airports being used for nuclear materials.
It details security measures for nuclear convoys, lists Britain's military nuclear reactor factories and test sites, and, for the first time, the towns and counties where "special nuclear materials" such as weapons-grade uranium and plutonium would travel.
It reveals that a fire involving a nuclear warhead could lead to a massive explosion. It says the explosive in a warhead is unstable if heated: "If weapon is jetting (flames under pressure) explosion may be imminent, debris may be scattered within 600m radius."
Geoff Hoon, the Secretary of State for Defence, has considered asking the Territorial Army to guard nuclear power stations and Sellafield nuclear fuel plant.
Stewart Kemp, the secretary of Nuclear Free Local Authorities, a group funded by many local councils, said: "If the Government judges that there is an increased terrorist threat then the right thing to do is stop the transports altogether."

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