Changes underway after nuclear alert

LESSONS learned from a major nuclear alert at Felixstowe have led to changes in procedures for tackling a possible terrorist weapons smuggling emergency, it was revealed today.

By Richard Cornwell

LESSONS learned from a major nuclear alert at Felixstowe have led to changes in procedures for tackling a possible terrorist weapons smuggling emergency, it was revealed today.

Government ministers say there was no danger from the incident, in which radioactive material was found inside a container by the remote radiological detection devices which check cargo at the port.

Ministry of Defence and Customs officers tracked the cargo by rail to Tilbury, where the container was searched and found to contain a consignment of scrap metal in which there was an industrial gauge giving off minute radiation.

But there was concern that the load had been allowed to travel 70 miles through two counties before it was stopped.

Minister of state at the Home Office, John Denham said: "At every stage following detection, radiation experts advised on the handling and response. At no time was the public or port staff put at risk.

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"However, lessons were learnt from dealing with this.

"In future, should radioactive material that poses a potential threat be identified in a port, the aim will be to deal with it there."

Mr Denham said that at the time of the incident on August 1 last year, the remote radiological devices were being tested, and the trial procedures did not require a train carrying radioactive material to be stopped but followed to its destination.

He stressed that the material proved not to be nuclear, but every illicit source of radiation – where cargo papers do not specify importation – had to be checked.

The detection devices seek out traces of plutonium or enriched uranium and were installed after the September 11 atrocities amid fears that terrorists could smuggle a so called "dirty bomb" into Britain.

Security has been stepped up considerably at the port in the past year with armed special branch officers on constant alert and soldiers ready to be moved in in an emergency.

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