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Nuclear scare at Felixstowe update

PUBLISHED: 15:41 28 August 2002 | UPDATED: 12:33 03 March 2010

CUSTOMS officers are in charge of the equipment at Felixstowe to detect possible nuclear bombs being imported, The Evening Star can reveal today.

Confusion had reigned over who was responsible for the remote radiological detection devices ever since a container with a contaminated bolt inside set off the machines.

CUSTOMS officers are in charge of the equipment at Felixstowe to detect possible nuclear bombs being imported, The Evening Star can reveal today.

Confusion had reigned over who was responsible for the remote radiological detection devices ever since a container with a contaminated bolt inside set off the machines.

But while it was today at last disclosed that Customs and Excise are supposed to man the machines, how the cargo was allowed to then leave the port after setting off the device was still a mystery.

The Home Office confirmed the equipment was the responsibility of Customs officials, but a spokesman said an internal inquiry was now taking place into the incident.

Customs and Excise in London refused to comment and said all inquiries about the affair were being handled by the Home Office.

It is unlikely that the outcome of the investigation will be made public, but there will be lessons to be learned from what appears to be a communications bungle.

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

Customs have previously declined to confirm or deny that the devices exist at ports because the issue is a matter of national security.

In the incident on August 1, the devices signalled that contaminated material had been found in a container. The box was then allowed to go on a 70-mile rail trip through Suffolk and Essex to Tilbury.

Initial reports suggested that the container was on a lorry – but in fact it was on a Freightliner train heading away from the port.

It was only at the end of its journey that it was examined and the alert found to have been triggered by a small bolt which had been contaminated and there was no danger at all.

Felixstowe town and district councillor Dennis Carpenter is now seeking assurances from the government and port bosses that procedures will tightened to ensure there is no repetition of the incident.

WEBLINKS: www.homeoffice.gov.uk

www.hmce.gov.uk

www.hph.com.hk

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