[ISN] Security lapses at nuclear plants spark terror fears

InfoSec News isn at c4i.org
Wed Feb 16 10:07:44 EST 2005


16 Feb 2005

A LITANY of security failures at British nuclear sites has been
revealed by government investigators, raising fears of a terrorist
attack. The incidents, which even included a burglary, were uncovered
by the Office for Civil Nuclear Safety (OCNS), an arm of the UK Atomic
Energy Authority. The watchdog’s reports are not normally published,
but have come to light because of the Freedom of Information Act.

During the 12 months ending April 2004, the agency recorded more than
40 security breaches, including eight incidents it classified as
"failures of security leading to unacceptable or undesirable

The disclosure could not come at a worse time for the government,
which is preparing to authorise the controversial construction of a
new generation of nuclear power stations later this year.

The security failures identified in the report included:

* Security guards at nuclear plants failed to respond to intruder
  alarms when a burglary was in progress;

* Two unauthorised people were able to walk unchallenged around
  restricted areas;

* Classified information was left exposed to theft or electronic
  interception. Several laptops and at least one CD containing
  restricted data were stolen;

* Carelessness in handling documents meant that "sensitive" documents
  were found by members of the public.

While the breaches were not violations of security around nuclear
material itself, access to information about the operations and
lay-out of nuclear sites could make the difference between a terrorist
attack succeeding and failing.

Since the Twin Towers attacks on 11 September, 2001, security has been
stepped up at sensitive British sites including nuclear plants. Last
year, the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, which
advises MPs, found that while nuclear plants were relatively well
protected, the disclosure of information could make them vulnerable.

A ground-based attack "would require detailed site-specific knowledge
of plant operations and design", the office concluded.

The OCNS report said that at least one attempt to gain access to
restricted sites was foiled when two individuals with forged papers
were turned away as they tried to enter a rail yard.

While government spokesmen would not identify which nuclear plants
were involved in the security breaches, it is understood that the
incidents were spread across all civil atomic facilities in Britain.  
There are seven active nuclear sites in Scotland.

Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat environment spokesman, said the
flaws revealed by the OCNS report had damaged the case for nuclear

"The nuclear industry always has the potential to cause environmental,
security and terrorism problems, which is why it is more important for
the industry to follow correct procedures and precautions than if it
was making baked beans," he said. "It is now clear that the industry
has not been following those procedures."

The Department of Trade and Industry has responsibility for the
nuclear sector and the OCNS. A spokesman said: "The director of Civil
Nuclear Security has undiminished confidence in existing security
arrangements. These have been significantly enhanced since 11
September, 2001, and are continually reviewed."

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