Uranium theft puts Britain on alert
POLICE have issued a national alert after 30lb of depleted uranium was stolen in a raid on a radioactive waste processing firm in Essex, writes David Leppard.
The alert was sent to all police forces in England and Wales last Monday after a van containing the uranium was stolen from the firm’s depot on an industrial estate in Purfleet. The vehicle had been left unlocked and the keys were in the ignition.
It is believed to be the first time that depleted uranium has been stolen in Britain.
Depleted uranium is mildly radioactive in its solid form but only becomes a real danger when it is involved in a fire or explosion. Then it can cause cause damage to the liver, kidneys and lungs. It is a heavy substance, nearly twice as dense as lead, and is commonly used on the tips of artillery shells to penetrate heavy armour.
Dr Frank Barnaby, a nuclear physicist, said it could cause chemical and radiological damage if particles were inhaled. He said terrorists might want to use the material in a dirty bomb.
He said: “If you exploded such a device in Oxford Street the police would be under pressure to evacuate a wide area. The uranium would spread all over and people would get it on their clothes and take it home with them.”
Senior intelligence officials have played down the security implications of the theft but nuclear experts say that if such a large quantity of uranium got into the wrong hands it could be used to make a terrorist “dirty bomb”.
Scotland Yard’s anti-terrorist branch and Special Branch officers have been briefed on the theft. Special Branch officers say it was captured by CCTV cameras. Essex police said the uranium “would be radioactive if ignited”.Posted by tstubbs at July 13, 2003 05:30 PM