October 21 , 2003  
Volume 97, Issue 28   

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McMaster, CSIS deny terrorist plot

By Marshall Bellamy
Gazette Staff

The McMaster University nuclear reactor might be a hotbed of atomic terrorism, as rumours of a dirty bomb plot spread south of the border.

In an article based on the comments of an anonymous FBI source over the weekend, The Washington Times reported an Al Qaida suspect was posing as a student at McMaster in order to gain access to the school's nuclear reactor and obtain nuclear waste to build a dirty bomb.

According to Dave Tucker, a health physicist who manages radiation safety for McMaster, the reactor serves as a research and teaching tool for the school and the security at the facility is reviewed periodically by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. "We have complete confidence in the security and safety measures," he stated.

Tucker pointed out the Al Qaida suspect, Adna Al Shukrijumah, was not on record at McMaster under his name or any of his known aliases. He added very few people have unescorted access to the reactor and everyone with access to the reactor is known personally to the staff.

When word came to McMaster about the alleged incident involving the terrorist suspect it was taken seriously, Tucker explained, adding the police were contacted and an internal investigation was initiated.

Nicole Courier, spokesperson for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, stated the agency is aware of the suspect, but that she could not comment on specifics of ongoing investigations.

"There was nothing to support or substantiate any of the claims that the suspect was [at] McMaster - or even [in] Canada," Courier said.

"If blown up in a confined area, like a subway, [a dirty bomb] could irradiate a lot people; it would be nasty," said David Shoesmith, a chemistry professor at Western, adding a dirty bomb has the potential to be an extremely practical weapon in the hands of terrorists, particularly suicide bombers.

According to Shoesmith, the challenge for potential nuclear terrorists is smuggling the nuclear waste out of the facilities, a daunting task considering radioactive waste tends to be a dangerous substance to transport. "You can't walk in and get one without dying," he added.

Under most circumstances, untrained people will have a lot of difficulty getting a hold of highly radioactive materials such as nuclear waste from a small reactor, although they could get hold of less radioactive material, Shoesmith explained.

"I don't know how they would do it, but I would never underestimate the ingenuity of these guys," Shoesmith said.




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