nuclear safety report discloses deficiencies
NewScientist.com News Service, 12 june 2002
By Rob Edwards
Staff shortages and security problems are hampering attempts to protect
nuclear plants from terrorist attack, a new report for the British
The Office for Civil Nuclear Security, a shadowy state agency charged
2000 with protecting 31 nuclear sites across the UK, has published its
ever report. Put quietly up on the Department of Trade and Industry
yesterday, it discloses "difficulties" with recruitment and
previously unknown "deficiencies" in security arrangements.
There was a flaw in the procedure for vetting staff at a new plutonium
manufacturing plant at Sellafield in Cumbria, which required "temporary
compensating arrangements" to be made. Workers have to be checked
sure that they will not be recruited by terrorists to steal plutonium,
can be made into a nuclear bomb.
The security clearances for guards at nuclear power stations also had
tightened up following a sabotage attempt two years ago. According to
report, a guard tried "to compromise the station's access control
No further details are given.
The director of civil nuclear security, Michael Buckland-Smith, is
that his 35 staff and £1.6 million annual budget are inadequate,
particularly since the terrorist attacks against the US on September
"I have lost two experienced inspectors over the past 18 months
considerable difficulty and delay recruiting replacements," he
"Unfortunately, four of my most experienced staff are either retiring
leaving in the next twelve months, compounding the difficulties we
anticipate finding suitably qualified replacements and filling new posts."
Buckland-Smith argues six extra posts are "essential if my office
continue to regulate security in the civil nuclear industry comprehensively
and effectively, given the heightened terrorist threat". A planned
of nuclear site inspections, suspended after September 11th, will not
again until next month "at the earliest".
More than 12,500 workers at nuclear plants have been vetted over the
year by Buckland-Smith's staff. "Public concerns are often misconceived
exaggerated," he says. "Nevertheless, a successful sabotage
attack on a
nuclear facility could cause widespread radioactive contamination and
Frank Barnaby, a nuclear consultant who used to work at the Aldermaston
atomic weapons plant in Berkshire, points out that insiders could damage
vital cooling systems at waste stores or reactors. "That would
disaster," he says.
The staff shortages "reflects a disturbing disinterest in security
by the government", according to David Lowry, an environmental
specialising in nuclear policy.
But this is denied by a government spokesman, who stresses that the
for Civil Nuclear Security is doing a good job. "There are some
issues that need to be addressed," he says. "But we are confident
will be able to recruit high quality staff."