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Nuclear power stations in urgent security rethink; WEST HITS BACK: American President strikes at the finances of global terrorism as fears grow over vulnerability of power plants.

Byline: RHODRI CLARK

Thousands of lives at risk from direct hit THE Government is urgently rethinking its security arrangements for nuclear plants in and near Wales, following the US terror attacks.

A direct hit on a power station could kill or cripple tens of thousands of people.

Some areas of Wales could be declared uninhabitable if terrorists managed to crash a large aircraft on to a nuclear power station in North Wales or beside the Bristol Channel. Even a moderate release of radiation could cause babies to be born with abnormalities and shut down large areas of Wales's farmland and fisheries.

A government spokesman admitted the existing security plans did not cover the possibility of impact by an airliner.

Within Wales, Wylfa power station on Anglesey is the most obvious nuclear target for terrorists. But the massive Sellafield reprocessing plant in Cumbria is close enough to the most densely populated parts of North Wales to cause health and environmental problems.

British Nuclear Fuels Ltd, owner of Sellafield, says the plant was designed to withstand the impact of a military or light plane. But a commercial airliner laden with fuel, like those used to attack the World Trade Centre a fortnight ago, could cause catastrophe.

The Paris-based World Information Service on Energy has warned that antiaircraft weapons should be set up near Sellafield as soon as possible.

It said up to two tonnes of lethal caesium-137 could be released into the atmosphere if the plant were struck by a large jet. That is far more than the 50lbs of caesium released by the Chernobyl reactor in the Ukraine in 1986.

Dr David Assinder, a radio-chemist at the University of Wales, Bangor, said the results of a power station like Wylfa being hit by an airliner did not bear thinking about. The whole of Anglesey and Bangor could be abandoned.

A local nuclear event would deposit highly toxic plutonium, some isotopes of which have a half-life (the time taken for radiation to halve) of 24,000 years.

He said the nuclear plants on the English side of the Bristol Channel were so close to South Wales they were "as good as in Wales".

Prof John Farrar, of the University of Wales, Bangor, said the effects of a terrorist attack on Wylfa or Trawsfynydd, the redundant power station in Snowdonia, would depend on factors such as wind speed and direction and rainfall.

"Wylfa will be a more obvious target because it's still functioning. It would be extremely serious were either of them to lose material for any reason."

A spokesman for BNFL, which owns both nuclear power stations in North Wales, said all its sites were placed on a higher state of alert after the US terrorist attacks, "although we have no reason to believe any of our facilities are under threat".

Effects felt for years to come THE effects of a passenger jet hitting a nuclear site would be horrific.

People near an exploding nuclear power station would receive enough radiation to kill them almost instantly.

Further away, people could suffer radiation burns and other serious ailments. People living some distance away who might seem to have escaped harm would probably develop lifethreatening cancers in the ensuing years.

Girls and young women subjected to high radiation could see the effects in deformed babies years later. Children poisoned by radiation can suffer malfunctioning thyroid glands.

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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Sep 25, 2001
Words:581
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