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Who is responsbile - nuclear cargo

PUBLISHED: 19:00 27 August 2002 | UPDATED: 12:33 03 March 2010

PORT and government officials were today tight-lipped about who is in charge of equipment at Felixstowe to detect possible nuclear bombs being imported.

PORT and government officials were today tight-lipped about who is in charge of equipment at Felixstowe to detect possible nuclear bombs being imported.

The remote radiological detection devices were installed after the September 11 atrocities amid fears that terrorists could smuggle a so-called "dirty bomb" into Britain.

But – as revealed in last night's Evening Star – in one incident when the devices discovered radioactive material, a communications bungle let the cargo carry on its journey and go on a 70-mile rail trip through Suffolk and Essex.

The big question being asked today is: Who is responsible for monitoring the devices and how could such a slip-up happen?

A spokeswoman for the Port of Felixstowe declined to comment on the issue and said the Home Office had asked that all inquiries about the incident be referred to its staff in London.

Customs and Excise in London, who refused to discuss the devices when they were installed as it was a matter of national security, were also diverting calls to Whitehall.

But no-one at the Home Office at Queen Anne's Gate -one was able to answer the question when it was put to them by the Evening Star.

The communications breakdown which let the container continue its journey is being viewed seriously by senior government officials and a full-scale inquiry is taking place.

Earlier this summer Britain was warned that it needs to improve security arrangements for containers being imported here – and a House of Commons defence committee said there had been "a lack of real urgency" on the matter in the wake of September 11.

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

He is asking Suffolk Coastal council and Felixstowe Town Council to write and voice strong concern.

After the alarms found the radioactivity in the box at Felixstowe on August 1, the container was allowed to travel by rail to Tilbury in Essex, travelling through Ipswich, Colchester, and Chelmsford.

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.

The remote radiological detection devices seek out traces of plutonium or enriched uranium and can either be hand-held or attached to a static object, such as a security barrier.

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