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Nuclear Plant Threat Called Unreliable
U.S. Does Not Issue New Alert for July 4

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By Bill Miller
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 14, 2002; Page A02

U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials have received information suggesting terrorists are planning an attack July 4 on a nuclear power plant, but they do not consider the threat credible enough to warrant a new alert, authorities said yesterday.

The information, developed within the past week, warned of plans to strike a nuclear facility in a region of the country that includes the Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania, a government source said. But authorities have deemed it to be of "questionable reliability" and described it as uncorroborated "third-hand information."

The FBI, which has issued occasional security advisories to the operators of the nation's 103 commercial nuclear power reactors since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, did not put out notice of the latest threat, reflecting official doubts about its veracity. In recent weeks, the FBI has notified its 56 field offices about vague threats against shopping malls, supermarkets, restaurants and other places, but not nuclear plants.

"We have not had, to date, a credible threat against a single, specific nuclear power plant in the United States," said William Beecher, director of public affairs for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The NRC earlier ordered plants to step up security.

The Washington Times first reported details of the threat yesterday.

Many of the recent warnings have resulted from the interrogation of Abu Zubaida, a top al Qaeda lieutenant captured in Pakistan. Among other things, Abu Zubaida recently told U.S. interrogators that Osama bin Laden's network was working on a bomb that could disperse radiation. He also was the catalyst for a warning issued by the FBI last month that terrorists might target banks in northeastern and mid-Atlantic states.

Sources said Zubaida did not provide the information about nuclear plants but declined to describe where it originated. Under a five-tiered alert system used by the Office of Homeland Security, officials have the flexibility to put specific regions or industries on higher alert levels, but that step has not been taken. The nation remains on a yellow, or elevated, state of alert, they said.

"There's nothing particularly new here," said Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for Ridge. "We have known for some time that al Qaeda is interested in our nuclear facilities as well as other parts of our critical infrastructure."

© 2002 The Washington Post Company

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