British counterterrorism police are investigating the arrival of a uranium-contaminated shipment at London’s Heathrow Airport. The incident sent a wave of alarm through local media.
News of the interception – which took place on December 29 – was first reported by The Sun tabloid. Painting the discovery as a foiled “nuke plot,” the newspaper claimed on Tuesday that the “deadly shipment” originated in Pakistan, and was sent via Oman to an Iranian national in the UK.
However, London’s Metropolitan Police told reporters that “a very small amount of contaminated material” was identified by Border Force officers during a routine screening, prompting a counterterrorism investigation.
Commander Richard Smith of the Met’s counterterrorism department said that the package “does not appear to be linked to any direct threat,” and “has been assessed by experts as posing no threat to the public.”
Citing anonymous sources, the BBC reported that the uranium was found in a shipment of scrap metal, and that it could have ended up there as a result of “poor handling.”
The Sun’s report set off a media frenzy in the UK. The tabloid quoted a former nuclear defense commander as saying that the material could have been “used in a dirty bomb,” and another “former army chief” as saying it could have been intended for use in an “assassination plot.” The Daily Mail claimed that investigators are following the “dirty bomb” angle, while the Daily Express described the incident as “a dry run” for an actual bomb plot, citing a supposed security expert.
There is no evidence for any of these claims, and Smith said that the incident proved that the screening process at Heathrow worked exactly as it should.