Fears over the security of dangerous chemicals in the Chemistry Department have been raised after Nouse gained entry to a secure building intended only to be accessible to Chemistry students and staff. This has come at a time when the issue of the security of chemicals in universities has been brought to prominence by the introduction of government measures to prevent potential terrorists exploiting laboratories.
Entry to the building, controlled by a key-card system, was obtained when two journalists were let in by a chemistry student without identifying themselves or implying they were a member of the department. The key-card system is supposedly being strictly monitored, with students told to never let people in they do not recognise.
Information obtained by Nouse gave details of the days when certain chemicals would be accessible in laboratories. The chemicals available include Acetone, Nitric Acid, Ethanol and Benzoyl Peroxide, some of which can be used in the making of liquid bombs.
A second-year chemistry undergraduate questioned on the matter admitted “If someone really wanted to abuse the system they could take dangerous chemicals, but it would take a lot of thought. First years are most vulnerable, as by the third year everyone knows each other”. She added that, although it would be possible to gain access if you knew the name of a lecturer, only “a chemistry student would have the knowledge of how to use the chemicals in a dangerous manner”.
University spokesperson David Garner defended the security measures in place, saying “The Chemistry department follows government guidelines relating to the security of scheduled chemicals. Radioactive material is stored securely and there are security cameras in place around the department, University security staff patrol on a regular basis.
“Students and staff in Chemistry are encouraged to be vigilant when entering and leaving the building, to eliminate as far as possible unauthorised entry. The key card system is, in the context of laboratory security, simply a first line of defence. The fact that students need access to staff offices means that the key card points are heavily used, however only authorised students and staff are allowed into the laboratories which are normally locked when not in use.”
The security flaws revealed by this investigation have the potential to contravene new measures announced recently by the government, which will see all foreign postgraduate students from outside the EU who wish to pursue courses in Biochemistry or Physics having to go through extensive vetting to check their credentials. These regulations are intended to prevent potential terrorists from gaining knowledge which could be used to carry out an attack.
Visa applications will apparently be blocked by the Foreign Office if they are deemed suspect.
The new security check system will be introduced in universities throughout the country to ensure that foreign postgraduates do not come to study with the intention to use their knowledge in developing weapons afterwards, thus posing a security threat.
Should the applicants fail to provide compelling evidence of legitimate reasons for wanting to study the subjects, or should their previous study records seem suspicious, they could be denied visas.
The Academic Tech-nology Approval Scheme is seen by the the Foreign Office as an improvement on current security regulations, which targets students from specific countries, such as Pakistan and Israel, which are deemed worrisome and has been criticised for being discriminatory.