shortages hit security checks at nuclear sites
The Times Online, June 17, 2002
By Michael Evans, Defence Editor
THE Government agency responsible for ensuring that Britains
31 civil nuclear sites are protected from terrorist attack is suffering
from a shortage of specialist inspectors. Some crucial security checks
have had to be suspended.
Michael Buckland-Smith, director of the Office for Civil Nuclear Security,
which is part of the Department for Trade and Industry, has revealed
in his annual report that, under pressure of work since September 11,
he has been forced to cut back on crucial visits to nuclear plants which
would have tested their compliance with improved security arrangements.
Mr Buckland-Smith who has a staff of 35, including five inspectors,
and a budget of £1.6 million, said that after the September 11
attacks, on the advice of MI5, he had ordered a number of extra security
measures to be implemented at all the nuclear sites. The measures included
putting more concrete chicanes around the sites and introducing additional
Discussions were also held with the Ministry of Defence, he said, to
counter the possibility of attacks from the air by hijacked airliners.
The measures selected involved strengthened warning procedures
and interdiction by RAF interceptor aircraft, he said.
But, unlike the French, who installed surface-to-air missiles around
their largest nuclear site at Cap le Hague, near Cherbourg, no steps
were taken to protect similar sites in Britain with missiles. Terrorists
would assume, correctly, that precautions against hijacking would now
be much more stringent in the wake of those attacks, Mr Buckland-Smith
said in his report, which has just been published.
Nine out of the 31 civil nuclear sites had been fully inspected before
September 11 but the programme of visits had to be suspended immediately
after the terrorist attacks to allow the inspectors to concentrate
their efforts on advising sites on the implementation of additional
Although site visits had then been stepped up, monitoring progress
achieved in meeting earlier improvement requirements has been temporarily
He said: Due to staff shortages and other pressures, I do not
expect to resume a full programme of compliance inspections until July
at the earliest.
He told Patricia Hewitt, the Trade and Industry Secretary, that he
was facing a recruiting problem because specialists in the field, mostly
with police or intelligence backgrounds, were taking up higher-paid
jobs in the burgeoning private security industry.
I have lost two experienced inspectors over the past 18 months
and faced considerable difficulty and delay recruiting replacements,
He added: Four of my most experienced staff are either retiring
or leaving in the next 12 months, compounding the difficulties we anticipate
finding suitably qualified replacements and filling new posts.
His inspectors were having to drive 12,000 miles a year to visit the
plants, most of which were in isolated parts of the country from
Dounreay at the tip of Caithness to Dungeness in Kent.
He said that he was aiming to increase staff numbers by six. I
consider these extra staff are essential if my office is to continue
to regulate security in the civil nuclear industry comprehensively and
effectively given the heightened terrorist threat prompted by last Septembers
attacks in the United States, he said.
Richard Dixon, head of research at Friends of the Earth in Scotland,
where five of the nuclear sites are located, said he was shocked by
the report and that it was an open invitation to terrorists to come
to Britain. If I were a terrorist, looking at this report and
scouting out what is happening with the nuclear industry across the
world, I would be heading to Britain, he said.
Paul Keetch, the Liberal Democrat defence spokesman, said: It
is pointless for UK forces to be engaged in the fight against terrorism
in the four corners of the globe if we do not have the resources to
check nuclear sites in our own backyard.
The security of the United Kingdom, and the British people, must
always come first and if this means cutting back on overseas commitments
then that must be done.
The resources to fund inspections must be found.
A spokeswoman for the DTI pointed out that Mr Buckland-Smith had concluded
in his report that he was confident that stringent security precautions
were in place.
Pete Roach, a campaigner for Greenpeace, said: One of the things
they seemed to be having to do at nuclear sites is just look at plans
for security rather than carrying out tests for security.
It is rather like giving someone a driving licence after they
have done the written examination and not actually passed their driving
They could carry out a proper emergency exercise rather than
sitting down over a cup of coffee and looking at the nuclear operators
plans for nuclear security.
The MoD said yesterday that there was a proposal
to close the nuclear weapons plant at Burghfield in Berkshire and to
absorb all the research efforts at the 700-acre site at Aldermaston
where the warheads for the Royal Navys Trident ballistic missiles
A spokeswoman denied a report that there were plans
to build a bigger facility at Aldermaston in order to develop new nuclear
The Government is facing calls to clarify its policy on nuclear weapons
development amid claims that it plans a huge, multimillion pound expansion
of an atomic research plant.
An expanded facility at the Aldermaston site, in Berkshire, would be
able to test, design and build a new generation of smaller nuclear weapons,
which could be used against terrorist groups and rogue states, according
to The Observer.