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U.S. plans station to detect radiation

The United States is planning to build a radiation detection facility in Florida to warn of any leak from two nuclear reactors under construction in Cuba, a Defense Department spokeswoman said Tuesday.

Work on the Juragua nuclear plant was stopped in 1992 after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the half-built facility is said to be rusting by the seaside in Cienfuegos province, 180 miles from the Florida Keys, with little chance of starting up in the near future. Cuba is seeking help to complete it.

The 1998 defense budget approved by Congress provides $3-million for a nuclear fallout system that could alert Florida residents and Caribbean nations to any accident at Juragua.

"The Department of Defense does not have final plans for the Cuban reactor monitoring project yet," a Pentagon spokeswoman said. "The general concept is to have a system that will provide an early warning of nuclear radiation approaching the United States."

A 1992 General Accounting Office report cited former plant workers who raised safety concerns.

Separately on Tuesday, diplomats in Havana said American Walter Van der Veer, charged with plotting attacks against the government, will go on trial Thursday. If convicted he could face the death penalty.