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Thursday, 20 September, 2001, 12:35 GMT 13:35 UK
Sellafield security reviewed
Spent nuclear fuel is reprocessed at Sellafield
The security of a new nuclear recycling plant at Sellafield will be considered in the light of fears about international terrorism.

Ministers want to learn more about the security implications of the mixed oxide fuel (Mox) plant in Cumbria following the terrorist attacks on America.

But a Defra spokesman said that a decision on the plant's opening had not been held up by last week's events in New York and Washington.

It had been anticipated that a decision might be taken this week on the controversial site.

If they can organise to capture four commercial airlines and fly them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, then they can certainly capture a ship on the high seas

Dr Frank Barnaby, of the Oxford Research Group
Concern has been raised about the possible risks associated with moving spent nuclear fuel, such as uranium and plutonium, from customers in Germany and Japan, and then in exporting the Mox fuel.

Dr Frank Barnaby, of the Oxford Research Group, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "If they can organise to capture four commercial airlines and fly them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, then they can certainly capture a ship on the high seas I would have thought.

"And the concern is the plutonium is easily separated chemically from the uranium and that plutonium could then be used to make a nuclear explosion, a nuclear weapon.

"If you are producing and using Mox and exporting it then you are significantly increasing the risk of nuclear terrorism," he said.

Nuclear terrorism

BBC correspondent Tom Fielden said that defence experts had told him that the American terrorist attack had changed the nature of a likely risk.

It was now not just merely a question of whether terrorists wanted to steal the nuclear fuel but whether they were prepared to die to blow it up, he said.

But he added that the decision on whether to open the plant five years after it was completed also depended on whether it would be commercially viable.

As soon as it was switched on it would be contaminated with nuclear materials and would incur the full cost of decommissioning if it were not to make a profit.

A Defra spokesman told BBC News Online that there was no strict timetable for when a decision would be made on the opening of the new plant.

Terrorism assessment

"It is not true to say that the decision has been held up by last week's events," he said.

"An assessment of terrorism will be included but a number of issues are being looked into," he said.

A BNFL spokesman said: "The Sellafield Mox plant will meet international safety requirements relevant to the control of nuclear material.

"In common with all government establishments we are now on a higher state of alert in the short term though there is no reason to believe that our facilities are under threat."

And he disputed Dr Barnaby's assertion that nuclear fuels could be easily separated saying that a nuclear reprocessing plant would be needed.

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