[ RadSafe ] This may be the only person ever killed by a dirty bomb.

Clayton Bradt dutchbradt at hughes.net
Tue Mar 25 19:19:52 CDT 2008

Curious case of the dead scientist and 
the bomb experiment

·     Ian Cobain
·     The Guardian,
·     Monday March 24 2008

This article appeared in the Guardian 
on Monday March 24 2008 on p1 of the
Top stories section. It was last 
updated at 12:44 on March 25 2008.

A mysterious bomb-making experiment 
that ended with the accidental death of
a government scientist has remained an 
official secret for more than five
years, leaving his family in the dark 
about what went wrong.
Terry Jupp, a scientist with the 
Ministry of Defence, was engulfed in
flames during a joint Anglo-American 
counter-terrorism project intended to
discover more about al-Qaida's bomb-
making capacities.
There has been no inquest into his 
death, as the coroner has been waiting
for the MoD to disclose information 
about the incident. An attempt to
prosecute the scientist's manager for 
manslaughter ended when prosecutors
said they were withdrawing the charge, 
but said the case was too
"sensitive" to explain that decision 
in open court.
The Guardian has established that Jupp 
was a member of a small team of
British and US scientists making bombs 
from ingredients of the sort that
terrorists could obtain. There is also 
evidence pointing to experiments to
discover more about radiological 
dispersal devices - so-called dirty 
- which use conventional explosives to 
scatter radioactive material.
But such a project would have been 
controversial as the open-air 
that ended in Jupp's death was 
conducted at a weapons testing centre 
on an
island in the Thames estuary 10 miles 
from Southend, Essex.
Meanwhile, the scientist's family 
despair of discovering what happened. 
feel these people high up want it 
swept under the carpet," said Jupp's
mother Anne. "The death of one man is 
nothing to upset them too much, I
suppose. But it does upset us."
Jupp was 46, married with two 
children, and had been with the MoD for
almost 25 years. At the time of the 
accident he was working with the
Forensic Explosive Laboratory, a 
division of the ministry's Defence 
and Technology Laboratory (Dstl).
On August 14 2002, he and his team was 
conducting a series of highly
classified experiments on Foulness, a 
remote island that is part of MoD's
vast weapons testing centre at 
Shoeburyness, east of Southend.
Blending several readily-available 
ingredients, then pouring the mix into
old paint tins, they built a number of 
10kg bombs. Sources familiar with
the case say the fatal experiment 
involved mixing three over-the-counter
ingredients including ammonium nitrate 
fertiliser and a powdered metal.
Jupp was asked to prime the mix with a 
small amount of high explosive, but
for reasons that remain unclear it 
ignited spontaneously. Jupp was 
by a fireball and suffered 80% burns, 
dying six days later.
Court case
An investigation by the Health and 
Safety Executive and MoD police 
in two of Jupp's managers being 
charged with manslaughter and being 
before the Old Bailey in April 2005.
The charge against one man was thrown 
out when the judge ruled there was
insufficient evidence. The second man 
denied the charge and the case
against him dragged on for years, 
before being abandoned after a review
involving Lord Goldsmith, then 
attorney general.
Gareth Patterson, prosecuting, told 
the Old Bailey in March last year that
information had emerged from 
subsequent experiments, but added: "The
difficulties of the sensitivities of 
this case are such that I cannot go
into too much detail about the 
information in open court."
Crown Prosecution Service sources said 
the case was hampered because one of
the American scientists refused to 
testify, while other officials said
there was concern in both countries 
that a trial could expose the nature of
the experiment.
According to a number of officials in 
Britain and the US, the Dstl had
carried out a series of secret 
experiments with the US national 
in New Mexico to find out more about 
the sort of bombs terrorists could
One of the Old Bailey defendants was 
the key figure on the British side,
these officials say.
According to these sources, in August 
2002, less than a year after the
September 11 attacks British and 
American scientists were anxious to
establish whether al-Qaida could build 
a dirty bomb using conventional
explosives surrounded by radioactive 
"They were looking into the most 
likely explosives to be used to scatter
radiation," said one. "They wanted to 
know how big such a bomb might be and
how far it would scatter the 
radiation. They were experimenting with
chemicals available over the counter 
to see how powerful an explosion could
be produced."
It is unclear whether the bomb that 
killed Jupp contained radioactive
material, and the MoD refuses to say 
whether he was involved in a dirty
bomb project.
Asked whether it has carried out such 
experiments at Shoeburyness, the MoD
would say only: "The Dstl is involved 
in classified work that is of
national importance, protecting UK 
armed forces and the public from very
real threats."
What is clear is that Shoeburyness has 
hosted some highly unusual
activities involving radioactive 
According to an Environment Agency 
report, at the time of the accident it
was the scene of "a major programme of 
nuclear warhead decommissioning".
Between 1998 and 2003, the report 
said, high explosive extracted from
free-fall nuclear bombs and Polaris 
missile warheads, which had been
contaminated with tritium and uranium, 
was taken to Shoeburyness for
This was achieved by taking the high 
explosive to a remote corner of
Foulness island, and by simply blowing 
it up.
The agency said these operations posed 
no risk to human health, as the
level of radioactive contamination was 
low. But the footpath skirting the
bleak coastline south of the site is 
lined with signs warning the public
not to fish there and to never take 
away shellfish.
Jupp's family knew nothing about his 
work and have been told nothing about
the experiment that led to his death.
His father Roy said: "He said he 
worked in plastics. That was the only
thing he ever told us."
Jupp's sister Alison Davis added: "We 
were absolutely stunned when the
phone call came though to tell us 
about an explosion. We thought: 'Why
would Terry be involved in an 
Delays in the criminal case - which 
they had hoped would shed light on the
tragedy - were a cause of immense 
frustration. Now they have no idea when
an inquest may be held.
The case was handed over to the local 
coroner in Essex last March, but it
took the MoD 12 months to hand over 
correspondence relating to the case.
The MoD said this was down to 
"technical things" but would not 
A spokesman said that some of the 
documentation about the death of Terry
Jupp remained at the ministry, and 
that while the coroner will be allowed
to view it, "he will not be allowed to 
take it away".

Clayton J. Bradt
dutchbradt at hughes.net

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