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Terror threat behind nuclear security boost

11 December 2007

MADRID – The government and the Nuclear Security Council (CSN) have boosted protection of the country’s nuclear power plants in the face of the perceived threat from Al Qaeda-related organisations, a recent report by the National Intelligence Centre (CNI) shows. Madrid has also drawn up a list that includes some 4,000 vital infrastructure locations that could be possible targets for extreme Islamist groups.

Security at nuclear power plants has been beefed up since February, prompted by the trial of those responsible for the 11 March 2004 bomb attacks in Madrid. In June 2006, the CSN said in a report that those attacks “highlight the existence of threats that could affect installations and nuclear or radioactive material.”

The Interior Ministry says the country is still a target for Islamic extremists, and cites recent statements by Osama bin Laden’s second-in-command, Ayman Al Zawahiri, calling for attacks on Spanish targets.

“The biggest damage would be caused by hitting a nuclear power plant,” says a CNI source.

Access to Spain’s eight currently operating nuclear plants has been toughened. At the Cofrentes plant in Valencia, workers pass through four different security points: at the first they identify themselves to guards; then they must pass through a finger-print check; and at the third they are scanned for metals and explosives; at the fourth, they are again, checked. Iberdrola, the company that runs Cofrentes, has placed two wire fences round the site. One is electrified, and the other has razor wire around the top of it.

Meanwhile, the ease with which Greenpeace activists were able to occupy the Almaraz plant in June prompted a review of security at the Extremaduran installation. IN general, the CNI has intensified security checks into the workforce at Spain’s nuclear power stations, say anti-terrorist sources. Even so, there have been incidents. The attempt to steal uranium tablets from the Juzbado fuel-element producing facility in Salamanca earlier this year reveals that security is still lax in many places. A member of the workforce is suspected of trying to smuggle the tablets out, which were found by a perimeter fence in September, but so far, nobody has been charged. Enusa, the company that runs Juzbado, says no stock is missing. The CSN says the tablets cannot be used to make a bomb.

Joan Mesquida, the head of the police and Civil Guard, spoke at a recent international conference in Madrid on Europe’s terrorist threat. “Spain is taking the possibility of an attack with non-conventional weapons very seriously.”

He added that both “intuition and information” suggest that Islamist terrorists will try to carry out an attack using a dirty bomb or non-conventional weapon.

[Copyright EL PAÍS, SL./ JOSÉ MARIA IRUJO 2007]

Subject: Spanish news