By Rob Edwards
13 August 2006
THE British nuclear industry has reported 39 lapses in security
against terrorism in the past year, including laptop thefts, internet
misuse, a power cut and lightning strikes.
The failings are revealed in a report from the Office for Civil
Nuclear Security (OCNS), the government watch dog responsible for
ensuring nuclear power stations and radioactive waste facilities are
protected from terrorist attacks.
The revelations have disturbed experts and environmentalists, who are
calling for security to be tightened. The OCNS has itself warned of
"complacency" on leaks of sensitive nuclear information.
According to the OCNS report, eight breaches in information security
were reported in the year to March 31. They included "the theft of
laptops from parked vehicles" and "inappropriate transmission of
restricted information over the internet", the report said.
"Assessments suggest that no major damage had occurred, but the fact
that they continue to happen reinforces the enduring need to combat
complacency. The information security inspector continues to work
closely with security managers within the industry to raise the
standard of personal security awareness."
OCNS also expressed concern about "additional security challenges"
posed by the growing use of wireless computer networks and portable
e-mail devices like the Blackberry. "OCNS has devoted considerable
effort working with the industry and central security authorities to
minimise the security risks," it said.
Nuclear plant operators reported a further 26 breaches of site
security to OCNS last year. They included "a failure of mains power at
a control room", "lightning causing alarm faults" and "spoil being
placed too close to a perimeter fence".
Five security lapses in nuclear transports were reported, though they
were described as "minor". In total, OCNS oversaw 2100 movements of
nuclear materials during the year.
Overall, OCNS director Roger Brunt nevertheless concluded that civil
nuclear security was satisfactory. "I am satisfied that the security
of nuclear material has not been prejudiced," he said.
But this hasn't reassured everyone. "As the threat from terrorism
continues to grow, these incidents are disturbing," said Friends of
the Earth Scotland's chief executive, Duncan McLaren.
"They may appear trivial to some, but if they are not acted upon the
nuclear industry is literally leaving the door open for those who
might wish to deliberately do mischief, or worse."
Pete Roche, a nuclear consultant based in Edinburgh, questioned
whether "dangerous nuclear technology" was compatible with an open and
democratic society. "Isn't it time we stopped exacerbating the
problems we have already created for ourselves by planning even more
reactors and potential terrorist targets?" he said.
The risks of nuclear terrorism have also been highlighted in a new
study on the security of industrial radioactive sources in Iran. More
than 80 sources of material capable of being made into "dirty bombs"
were discovered to be outwith regulatory control or vulnerable to
Outside hospitals and the nuclear industry, radiation is used in some
500 factories and universities across Iran to measure and test
materials. Scientists from the Iranian Nuclear Regulatory Authority
sampled 48 of them to check how well the sources were looked after.
In the latest issue of Radiation Protection Dosimetry, the researchers
reported 39 lost or abandoned sources at five sites. They said a
further 49 radio active sources were vulnerable to theft or damage.
According to Dr Frank Barnaby, a nuclear security consultant with the
Oxford Research Group, there was a real risk of radioactive sources
being stolen and combined with conventional explosives to make a
"It's absolutely amazing that this hasn't been done already," he told
the Sunday Herald. "I'm surprised that those who plotted the latest
airline attack didn't go for dirty bombs. It would have been easier
for them to get away with."
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