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Wednesday, 01 July 2015

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Terror alert as nuke ships return

By Stephen Meredith

THE two armed BNFL ships used to return a controversial shipment of nuclear waste to Sellafield from Japan could be targeted by terrorists as they re-enter British waters this week.

The Pacific Pintail and Pacific Teal – the only dedicated nuclear freighters of their type in the world – left Cumbria at the beginning of September to collect plutonium recovered from redundant nuclear weapons in America.

They are now on their return leg of their journey and are heading for a reprocessing plant in France, where the plutonium – enough to make 40 nuclear bombs – will be converted for use as commercial fuel.

The two ships, which are carrying the world’s first seaborne cargo of weapons-grade plutonium, are due to sail into UK waters under heavy armed guard on Thursday, amid heightened concern over a maritime terrorist attack.

Both vessels are due to sail within 16 miles of Cornwall on Saturday, passing close below the Devon, Dorset and Hampshire coast before docking in Normandy.

Holding 140kg of plutonium from US atomic missile warheads, the vessels will place millions of people at risk if disaster strikes in the English Channel – the world’s busiest waterway which sees more than 400 vessels pass through each day.

Ex-government nuclear physicists, experts on international terrorism as well as former Ministry of Defence staff have described the trip as absurd in the wake of fresh intelligence that al-Qaida is plotting to target Western shipping interests.

Their arrival will follow a statement by the head of the Royal Navy, Admiral Sir Alan West, that he had specific intelligence that al-Qaida was seeking to blow up merchant ships, particularly those navigating congested shipping routes.

More than a dozen armed British commandos are standing guard on the decks of each of the vessel, which are the property of Government-owned British Nuclear Fuels and are now both equipped with 30mm cannon.

Scenarios discussed by US and UK intelligence are believed to include those where a vessel is not only seized but attacked by missile or rammed by boat or from the air.


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