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AL QAIDA TARGETS NUCLEAR TRAINS; Security tightened in Midlands.

Byline: CAROLINE WHEELER

AL-QAIDA terrorists could be planning to attack nuclear trains with a makeshift 'dirty bomb' as they pass through the Midlands. If successful the radioactive fall-out would spark a national disaster on a similar scale to Chernobyl, campaigners have warned.

Now British Transport Police, who have recognised the trains as a 'potential target', have stepped up security along the nuke route - which passes through inner city areas of Birmingham.

Incredibly, the Sunday Mercury has discovered timetable details of EVERY nuclear train are available to buy over the counter - for just pounds 12. The news comes less than a week after Tony Blair's chilling speech in which he warned of a terrorist enemy 'looking for ever more dramatic and devastating outrages to inflict.'

He asked the public to be vigilant and said that extremists might use boats or trains rather than planes to attack the West.

Last week the government recognised the threat of dirty bombs and ordered that all major ferry ports be fitted with radiation-measuring devices, to stop terrorists trying to smuggle radioactive material on board.

And one of the latest FBI warnings suggested that the al-Qaida terror network may be plotting to attack trains in America.

So-called dirty bombs are a combination of conventional explosives with radioactive material.

A spokesman for British Transport Police confirmed that trains carrying radioactive waste were a potential terrorist target.

He said: 'There are movements of nuclear waste not just by train but also by road, but clearly the trains are a potential target and it's taken into account. There is tight security governing the movement of nuclear flasks by rail and elsewhere for which we and others are responsible for policing.

'After September 11 and at the time of the first anniversary, security was heightened. Now in response to Tony Blair's speech, we have increased the number of patrols in train stations.

'We are hooked into the anti-terrorism branch and the intelligence service and we rely on them to pass on to us any relevant information about a security threat to our transport system.'

A spokesman for British Nuclear Fuels Ltd (BNFL) said: 'Direct Rail Services (DRS) operates within extremely stringent safety and security regulations that are continuously monitored, ensuring the risk of any incident is minimised at all times.

'The Office of Civil Nuclear Security (OCNS) audits and approves the security procedures undertaken by DRS and is in constant communication regarding threat levels and specific threats affecting the industry.

'For security reasons it is not sensible to comment on opportunities for terrorists to attack flasks.

'However, the design and operational arrangements, agreed with the appropriate government departments, take into account perceived terrorist threats.

'Flasks are heavily shielded, purpose-built containers constructed from forged steel more than 30cm thick.

'Each flask weighs over 50 tonnes and is housed under a locked cover, fastened to the rail wagon for transportation.

'All DRS employees have been briefed, explaining the need for increased vigilance during these periods.'

A spokesman for Sellafield said: 'Safety has always been our number one priority. There is no way that we would transport spent nuclear fuel if we thought it was not safe.

'We are extremely proud of our safety record and for the best part of 30-years we have not had one single problem with radioactive material being transported either by rail or road.'

But Jenny Maxwell, the vice chair of CND who is based in Birmingham, fears the trains could be targeted by terrorists.

She said: 'Trains carrying spent nuclear fuel from power stations pass through the Midlands every week on their way to the Sellafield re-processing plant in Cumbria.

'Our worst fear is that these trains could be targeted by terrorists who could create the effect of a dirty bomb by attacking the flasks with explosives.

'If you got radiation going over Birmingham it would result in a massive increase in cancer and could have a similar effect to Chernobyl.

'These trains are easy enough to spot. If CND can find out about them, so can others.'

Last week a Sunday Mercury reporter bought a timetable - freely available to the public - which gives the exact minute and day each nuclear trains pass through Midland stations.

For security reasons, we do not plan to make these details public but the trains run along the West Coast Main Line to Sellafield, via Cheltenham, Birmingham, Walsall, Wolverhampton, Stafford and Crewe.

CAPTION(S):

TERROR TARGET ... nuclear waste trains passing through a Midland railway station and (below) the trainspotters' timetable which reveals details of journeys
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Nov 17, 2002
Words:754
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