Hunt for miss­ing atomic sci­en­tist

Malta Independent - - NEWS -

The Bri­tish in­tel­li­gence ser­vice MI5 has been brought into the hunt for the miss­ing atomic sci­en­tist Bruno Pon­tecorvo who has not been seen for about seven weeks.

Pro­fes­sor Pon­tecorvo and his fam­ily ar­rived in Fin­land at the be­gin­ning of Septem­ber but they have since dis­ap­peared. There is spec­u­la­tion the fam­ily may have gone to the Soviet Union.

The pro­fes­sor had re­cently left his post as a prin­ci­pal sci­en­tific of­fi­cer at Har­well atomic re­search sta­tion in Ox­ford­shire and was due to be­gin a new job at Liver­pool Univer­sity in Jan­uary.

His dis­ap­pear­ance comes just 10 months after another Har­well sci­en­tist, Klaus Fuchs, con­fessed in Jan­uary to spy­ing for the Soviet Union.

Screened sev­eral times

The Min­is­ter of Sup­ply, George Strauss, has told MPs the pro­fes­sor had had only lim­ited ac­cess to "se­cret sub­jects" for some time.

But he ad­mit­ted it would have been pos­si­ble for the pro­fes­sor to gather in­for­ma­tion, at Har­well or while he was in Canada, which could be of value to the en­emy.

He said Pro­fes­sor Pon­tecorvo had been screened sev­eral times in the last few years by se­cu­rity of­fi­cers.

Pro­fes­sor Pon­tecorvo was born in Italy, moved to France in 1936 and from there to the United States in 1940.

In 1943 he be­came a mem­ber of the joint An­glo-Cana­dian atomic en­ergy team at Mon­treal.

He was posted to Har­well in Jan­uary 1947.

In­for­ma­tion on Pro­fes­sor Pon­tecorvo's dis­ap­pear­ance has been passed to the United States.

The pro­fes­sor's sis­ter, Anna Pon­tecorvo, who lives in Hamp­stead in north Lon­don, trav­elled with her brother, his wife and three sons to France and Italy in July.

She said her brother had not men­tioned any plans to go to Rus­sia dur­ing the time she spent with them.

How­ever, a pas­sen­ger in the air­liner which took the fam­ily from Stock­holm to Helsinki said that dur­ing the flight the Pon­tecor­vos' five-year-old son An­to­nio had told him they were go­ing to Rus­sia.

There are di­rect flights from Helsinki to Len­ingrad and Moscow.

Bruno Pon­tecorvo's post as Pro­fes­sor of Ex­per­i­men­tal Physics at the Univer­sity of Liver­pool was can­celled.

Con­fir­ma­tion he had fled to Moscow came in March 1955 when he ap­peared at a news con­fer­ence in Rus­sia.

He wrote an ar­ti­cle in the Soviet news­pa­pers Pravda and Isves­tia say­ing his fam­ily had been granted refuge in the Soviet Union, where he was work­ing with the In­sti­tute of Phys­i­cal Prob­lems of the Soviet Academy of Science.

He said he was in­volved in re­search into the use of atomic en­ergy for peace­ful pur­poses and had left the West be­cause in his view it was in­tent on "new war us­ing atomic and nu­clear weapons as a means for achiev­ing world dom­i­na­tion".

Doc­u­ments re­leased by the Pub­lic Records Of­fice un­der the 50-year rule re­vealed an ad­min­is­tra­tive blun­der had led to Pro­fes­sor Pon­tecorvo being given se­cu­rity clear­ance to work at Har­well - even though a search of his home in 1943 had un­cov­ered many doc­u­ments on com­mu­nism.

He was awarded the Lenin prize for nu­clear re­search in 1963. He died in 1993.

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