British Nuclear Fuels PLC yesterday admitted to a Special Parliamentary Committee that they had "lost" a full-size nuclear reactor from their facility at Dounreay, Scotland.
"Me and Phil popped inside the concrete shell for a ciggie and there was nothing there," said security chief lan Parker. "It was just a big hole. It was completely cleaned out, they even took the handrails and the wash basins and the safety posters off the walls. They didn't even leave the ciggie dispenser machine. We were well annoyed."
"It's very embarrassing," said Henry Williams, who became BNFL's new CEO last year. "I mean, we've lost a lot of things before … for years we were deliberately "losing" weapons grade plutonium so we could pass it to the Americans … but we've never lost a complete thousand-ton reactor before. Okay, so sometimes staff have been caught taking used fuel rods home in cold weather, but we've always got them back."
"There's always big stuff coming in and out, said Parker, "But we aren't supposed ask what's in the lorries. It's a security thing. There are radiation detectors on all the access roads, but they switch them off on Wednesdays and weekends to help with the emissions statistics."
Williams insists that it is too early to start attributing blame. "It might not really be lost. Perhaps it's a stocktaking error. Maybe it'll turn up next week parked behind the warehouse in East Cheam covered in lots of little red stocktaking stickers. That happened to my filing cabinet once."
Williams discounts the possibility that the reactor may have secretly been sold to the North Koreans.
"That's just stupid," he says, "It's true that there have been a lot of eastern types hanging about recently and lots of big lorries in the visitors' car park with Korean markings, but if they were North Koreans, I'm sure that we were just demonstrating to them the exact sort of nuclear reactor that they aren't allowed to have, and showing them the sort of process for making plutonium that they should avoid. In case they did it by accident. We provide a lot of useful technical training like that."
Williams also downplays the suitcases full of money allegedly brought by the North Koreans and deposited in the BNFL safe by the visitors, which now cannot be found. "You know how it is with hand luggage when you are on holiday, it always goes missing. I'm sure we've forwarded them on."