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Arrests at UK's Sellafield nuclear plant raise concerns about security

The five men who were arrested outside the Sellafield nuclear plant have been released without charge. But the incident has turned attention to nuclear facilities' security.

A view of the Sellafield nuclear power plant near Seascale in Cumbria is seen in this April 12 file photo. British police said on Tuesday they had arrested five men close to the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant in northwest England under counter-terrorism laws.

David Moir/Reuters

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The arrest of five men whose actions aroused suspicion outside Britain’s Sellafield nuclear plant on Monday has increased fears of terrorist reprisals in the wake of the death of Osama bin Laden.

The five men, who all live in London and are of Bangladeshi origin, were detained just hours after Mr. bin Laden’s death was announced.

According to the Civil Nuclear Constabulary (CNC), which polices Britain’s nuclear facilities, the men were stopped as part of a routine patrol near the perimeter of the Sellafield plant and were “unable to give a satisfactory account of their actions.” They were arrested under the Terrorism Act and questioned, then released without charge.

Nonetheless, with the West on heightened alert after bin Laden’s death, the incident will raise concerns about the security of Europe’s nuclear facilities and their ability to defend themselves from potential attack.

Ian Farnan, a leading expert on nuclear power at the Department of Earth Sciences at Cambridge University, described security at Britain’s nuclear plants as robust. “It would be a really hard job to take on one of these power plants,” he said. “A far easier way to distribute nuclear material would be to procure it abroad, perhaps the former Soviet Central Asia, and bring it into the country. You could then take that into the center of a city.”

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