Terror police probe uranium seized at Heathrow

The radioactive substance was found during routine inspection of package flown into the airport

The undeclared nuclear material reportedly originated from Pakistan and arrived on a flight from Oman
(Image credit: Getty Images)

An investigation has been launched following the seizure of a shipment of uranium flown into London on a passenger jet, counter-terrorism police have announced.

The Metropolitan Police said that a routine screening at Heathrow Airport had uncovered a package containing a material “contaminated” with uranium – which can be used in so-called dirty bombs, designed to scatter radioactive material.

“Alarms were triggered” when scanners detected the undeclared nuclear material as it was being sent to a freight shed owned by handling firm Swissport on 29 December, The Telegraph reported. A source told the BBC that the uranium was in a shipment of scrap metal.

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According to The Sun, the package was being sent to Iranian nationals in the UK and arrived on a flight from Oman that originated in Pakistan. Forensics teams have reportedly “spent days poring over the shipment”.

Hamish De Bretton-Gordon, a former commander of the UK’s nuclear defence regiment, told the paper that “for uranium to turn up on a commercial airliner from Pakistan to an Iranian address in the UK is very suspect”.

Counter-terror commander Richard Smith said the amount of seized contaminated material “was extremely small” and had been “assessed by experts as posing no threat to the public”. He added that “from our inquiries so far, it does not appear to be linked to any direct threat”.

However, strict rules govern the handling of dangerous cargo such as uranium.

No arrests have been made and officers are working with partner agencies “to ensure there is no risk to the public”, the i news site reported.

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Arion McNicoll is a freelance writer at The Week Digital and was previously the UK website’s editor. He has also held senior editorial roles at CNN, The Times and The Sunday Times. Along with his writing work, he co-hosts “Today in History with The Retrospectors”, Rethink Audio’s flagship daily podcast, and is a regular panellist (and occasional stand-in host) on “The Week Unwrapped”. He is also a judge for The Publisher Podcast Awards.