November 1, 2001
Energy Minister Brian Wilson has confirmed that security at UK nuclear sites is being reviewed.
Following international warnings about the likelihood of an act of nuclear terrorism, Mr Wilson told the BBC that safety at nuclear sites was being closely monitored.
Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Wilson said: “We are constantly reviewing security arrangements around nuclear sites in the UK and both the security and safety regulators have continued to review all relevant precautions.”
He was unable to divulge specific details for reasons of confidentiality.
Meanwhile, former Conservative environment minister John Gummer has called for European countries to work together against the threat of nuclear terrorism.
His comments and those of Mr Wilson followed warnings from the United Nations nuclear watchdog that security at some industrial and medical sites housing nuclear materials was “disturbingly weak”.
Experts at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) experts have called for stricter security at nuclear plants and other centres using radioactive material, in the wake of the US terror attacks.
September 11 has been a real wake up call for the industry.
The BBC’s Christine McGourty
The United States has put “no fly zones” around its nuclear installations.
France’s increased security measures include surface-to-air missiles near its nuclear plant at Cap la Hague
Britain says security and safety at civil nuclear sites are being reviewed since the 11 September attacks, but refuses to detail what steps are being taken.
Mr Gummer told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that protection of nuclear facilities was a Europe-wide issue.
“The French nuclear establishments are as close to parts of Britain as some British sites,” he said. “We have to make sure we are taking all measures across Europe.”
Mr Gummer, whose Suffolk constituency includes the Sizewell B plant, said UK security had improved since the US attacks.
“Since September 11, because we are aware of the reality of this threat, it is both easier and obviously more important to try to meet it.
“In a sense it was more difficult before September 11 when people didn’t realise and didn’t take it seriously enough.”
Change of perception
The threat of terrorist targeting nuclear materials should not be concentrated on nuclear installations, he added.
“When one thinks of water supplies and the way anthrax has been used…we have got to recognise that terrorism is something civilised societies have to deal with and have to deal with it together,” he told the BBC.
BBC science correspondent Christine McGourty said the UK’s nuclear power plants were industrial sites, not military and not hardened to withstand the intentional impact of a fully fuelled jet aircraft.
She said the nuclear industry was very aware of the dangers of radioactive material falling into terrorist hands and there are very strict procedures in place to make sure material is not smuggled out of them
“But September 11 has changed everyone’s perception of nuclear terrorism because no one had ever thought this sort of attack would take place,” she said.
One fear is that terrorists could use radioactive materials from industrial or medical sources to create a low-tech “dirty bomb” which would not cause devastation of nuclear bomb but could cause widespread radioactive contamination, she said.
At a special session on nuclear terrorism in Vienna on Friday, the IAEA is expected to ask for up to £20m for a new worldwide initiative to widen security and improve responses to any nuclear attack.
Security measures at the UK’s civil nuclear sites are regulated by the Office for Civil Nuclear Security which works closely with the Health and Safety Executive.
They provide advice on the safety implications of events, including the possibility of plane crashes at nuclear installations.
A spokeswoman for the BNFL, which runs seven of the UK’s nuclear plants, said its power stations were on increased security, in accordance with government advice.
“But we feel that there is no reason to believe our facilities are under threat,” she told BBC News Online.
A spokesman for the Department of Trade and Industry told BBC News Online: “Both regulators are reviewing all relevant precautions in the light of the recent terrorist attacks in the USA.
“It is not Government policy to disclose details of security measures taken at civil nuclear sites.”