terror attack warning
War on Terrorism: Observer special (The Observer),
Sunday December 16, 2001
By Ben Summerskill
Ministers have been warned that a determined terrorist
attempt to fly an
aeroplane into the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant could not be
prevented because of its proximity to transatlantic flight paths.
The warning, from MI5, came after Tornado fighters were scrambled over
plant in response to a reported hijack attempt last month.
'The position at Sellafield is unthinkable,' an intelligence source
confirmed. 'If it were hit successfully, everything within 150 miles
go. The position has now been made clear to Ministers.'
'Sellafield is two minutes from the transatlantic flight path. Even
had a warning that a plane had been hijacked, you would have no real
opportunity to intercept a plane flying at 400 or 500 miles an hour.
time you listened to a call reporting the hijack, it could be all over.'
Within days of receiving the advice two weeks ago, Home Secretary David
Blunkett - piloting his new terrorism Bill through the Commons - complained:
'Those who tell me we are not [vulnerable] are the ones who do not have
security and intelligence information which, for my sins, I carry.'
More than 200 flights a day pass within 50 miles of Sellafield in Cumbria.
They come not just from Heathrow, but from continental Europe. Two-mile
exclusion zones are enforced around the plant, but these only apply
height of 3,000 feet. Two miles would provide just 14 seconds warning
approaching aircraft flying at 500 miles an hour.
A spokesman for BNFL, which owns Sellafield, said last night: 'Our
are robust and there are the strictest security arrangements. They are
to hold radioactive material.' But a company source conceded that the
possibility of an aircraft being deliberately flown into the structures
not been considered when they were constructed.
David Learmount, safety editor of Flight International, said: 'You
slightly more than two minutes, but it wouldn't be more than five.
Thankfully, however, if you dive a civil airliner very quickly, it might
lose control and miss the building.
'If however it appeared that a plane was intent upon hitting Sellafield,
would have to attempt to blow it out of the sky altogether with the
Environmental groups have repeatedly complained about a perceived terrorist
threat to Sellafield. Friends of the Earth have claimed that any accident
could kill two million people.