U.S. intelligence officials have received threats that terrorists will strike a U.S. nuclear power plant on July 4. The threat received last week suggested that an unidentified Islamic terrorist group was planning to attack a nuclear power facility in the Northeast, but it did not specify a target. The Washington Times has suggested that terrorists may target the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant or other nuclear facilities in Pennsylvania.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the alleged plot is one of scores of threats filtering through U.S. intelligence and is not considered serious enough to formally warn the public or change the nuclear industry's already high level of alert.
Unlike some other recent threat information, the power plant threat did not come from Abu Zubaydah, the senior al Qaida operational leader in U.S. custody. Abu Zubaydah's interviews with U.S. interrogators led a recent warning to banks, and heightened concerns al Qaeda was developing a radiation-spreading dirty bomb.
Rep. Edward Markey of Massachusetts, a senior Democrat on the House Energy Committee, is urging the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to take such steps as restoring a no-fly zone within a 10-mile radius of nuclear plants, federalizing the security force and conducting more extensive background checks of all plant employees. He says, it indicates that "al Qaeda is seriously targeting U.S. nuclear facilities for future attacks."
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The Bush administration has taken steps to tighten security at U.S. nuclear power facilities based on documents and information obtained from al Qaeda terrorists in Afghanistan. "As the president said earlier this year, we know that al Qaeda has been gathering information and looking at nuclear facilities and other critical infrastructure as potential targets," says Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the Office of Homeland Security. "Because of that, we have strengthened security at those facilities." Johndroe says the administration has no plans to issue an alert or to raise the "national threat level."The reports did not identify how the attacks would occur, but officials say one likely method would be to fly a hijacked airliner into a nuclear power plant.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld says, "I don't discuss intelligence to confirm it or to deny it, either one."
Separate reports from captured al Qaeda operations chief Abu Zubaydah indicate that two al Qaeda terrorists have been working secretly within the United States to obtain nuclear material for use in a radiological bomb attack. Radiological weapons combine conventional explosives with radioactive material to increase the death toll. The terrorist leader says the two men ? an American and an African national ? plan to construct the bomb in the United States from stolen or covertly purchased nuclear material..
Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Richard Meserve says, "No existing nuclear facilities were specifically designed to withstand the deliberate high-velocity direct impact of a large commercial airliner, such as a Boeing 757 or 767. Prior to September 11, such a scenario was not considered to be a credible threat." Still, nuclear power plants are massive structures with thick walls and barriers capable of resisting a tornado, he says.
The NRC, after consulting the Pentagon, has decided against deploying anti-aircraft missiles around nuclear plants. Meserve says, "Any such application of anti-aircraft weapons would present significant command and control challenges. The operator of the anti-aircraft weapon would need continuous contact with someone who could authorize the downing of a civilian commercial aircraft, with all of the attendant implications, and would need to be able to carry out that act in seconds. It may be difficult in this context to distinguish an aircraft that had drifted off course from an aircraft on an attack mission."
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More than 350 people have been quarantined in Afghanistan to prevent the spread of a mystery fever which has struck down 18 soldiers from the U.K, in what is a bizarre reminder of ?Gulf War Syndrome.? The men are all military medical personnel serving with Field Hospital 34 at the main allied air base at Bagram.
Two of the soldiers are seriously ill and their next of kin have been notified, according to Brigadier Roger Lane. One has been evacuated to England for treatment while the second has been flown to a U.S. military hospital in Germany. The rest are being cared for by medical staff at Bagram.
"We believe it's some kind of enteric (intestinal) fever, but we have yet to go and establish what exactly it is," Lane says. Soldiers first started reporting symptoms three days ago, including fever, diarrhea and vomiting. The illness is similar to meningitis, but medics don?t think that?s what it is. The area around Field Hospital 34, which has a military staff of 350 people, has been isolated and military police have been deployed to prevent trespassers.
About 1,700 British troops are currently deployed at Bagram and have been involved in two military operations in eastern Afghanistan since arriving in the country last month.Earlier this month, three British Royal Marines were evacuated to Bagram during an operation in mountainous eastern Afghanistan. Two were diagnosed with altitude sickness and one had dysentery. Brigadier Lane says no hospital personnel have left the base since they arrived. The hospital has treated mostly British troops, although one Afghan was treated two weeks ago.
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