erupts over Sellafield security
Guardian, 07 March 2002
A Conservative spokesman was accused of "irresponsible"
behaviour in the
Commons today after he revealed just how easy it would be for terrorists
destroy Sellafield nuclear power plant and render most of Britain
Tory environment spokesman Jonathan Sayeed called for stricter security
prevent a possible air strike on the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing
after spelling out the consequences of a hijacked airplane crashing
the nuclear reactor.
But environment minister Michael Meacher turned on Mr Sayeed during
question time, claiming it was extraordinary for a frontbench MP to
attention to the "exposure of a major nuclear plant" in public.
The row was sparked when Mr Sayeed said the amount of highly radioactive
material stored at the Cumbrian plant "in steel tanks nearly 50
years old" was around 100 times the quantity released in the Chernobyl
"Will you confirm that a passenger jet would take about 30 seconds
traverse the air exclusion zone around Sellafield and hit those tanks.
"Do you agree that, dependent on weather conditions, this would
land within 400 miles of Sellafield, uninhabitable.
"There's an urgent need for the imposition of new security measures,
perhaps involving precautions as basic as barrage balloons, to deal
this threat until safer storage of fissile material is achieved,"
Mr Meacher responded: "I find it absolutely extraordinary that
spokesman, on behalf of the opposition - even if what he said was correct,
and I certainly don't confirm it - to advertise in parliament and draw
attention to the exposure of a major nuclear plant in this way is pretty
These matters had received "intense examination" since September
"It is not my place to say publicly here in parliament exactly
what are the
precautionary measures that have been put in place.
"I would expect these measures to be handled through the usual
channels and not openly broadcast in this way."
The government was "acutely aware of the problem" and doing
could to deal with it.
Earlier, Labour's David Chaytor also raised the vulnerability of Sellafield
Mr Chaytor asked whether the government's chief scientific adviser
have issued his statement this morning calling for Britain to build
nuclear power stations "had the hijacked aeroplane flown into Sellafield
and not the World Trade Centre".
Mr Meacher told him: "Obviously after September 11 the exposure
plants is a major issue.
"This is now kept very firmly under review by the Office of Civil
Nuclear Safety and security measures have been tightened in the light
of that event."