Thursday, June 07, 2001

A nuclear physicist has claimed that Mox fuel produced at Sellafield could be stolen and made into an atomic bomb - even though BNFL has spent millions of pounds arming ships to combat any terrorist hijack.

Frank Barnaby, who worked in the atomic weapons laboratory at Aldermaston in the 1950s, before going on to head the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, has told the British government that terrorists could easily make a crude atomic bomb from Mox fuel, a mixture of plutonium and uranium, arising from Sellafield's reprocessing.

Dr Barnaby makes his claims in a "confidential" report" sent to the Department of the Environment to try and persuade the government not to licence the full-scale Mox production plant at Sellafield.

He warns it would be "sheer irresponsibility" to licence the plant as the theft of the fuel would then become a "terrifying possibility."

But BNFL at Sellafield dismissed Dr Barnaby's fears as "Something like a science fiction story."

The company claims that any risk is "minimal" because of the tight safeguards and security for the protection of Mox fuel transport by sea.

Two ships have been specially equipped with cannon, able to fire 650 rounds per minute, to carry the fuel on the 40-day, 15,000 mile voyages from Barrow to Japan.

Sellafield spokeswoman, Ali Dunlop, said: "Frank Barnaby makes it sound so easy, but would need a lot of technology, expertise, plant and equipment to even contemplate doing anything - it is science fiction."

She pointed out that converting plutonium into Mox fuel for re-use in nuclear reactors actually cut down the risk of it falling into wrong hands.

In his report, Dr Barnaby insists that if terrorists who are intent on mass destruction obtained Mox fuel they would need no more technical knowledge than that used to make the Lockerbie bomb, to build an atomic explosive device. He claimed the chemistry expertise required would be less than that required for the illegal manufacture of designer drugs or that employed by the Aum Sinrikyo cult in 1995, to prepare Sarin nerve gas for release into the Tokyo subway.

"If terrorists can get their hands on the Mox fuel it is easy for them to separate the plutonium and build it into a bomb," he declared.

Dr Barnaby's report will be considered by the government as part of the public consultations into the economic viability of the 462 million Sellafield Mox plant. The consultation finished last week and BNFL hopes to get a licence to operate, soon after the general election.