As counter-terrorist operations continue in many European countries, Belgium is increasingly worried about the vulnerability of its nuclear power plants.
Investigations into last week’s attack on Brussels have authorities worried the Islamic State may be targeting nuclear installations in hopes of acquiring radioactive material. This is particularly worrying because Belgium has a relatively weak intelligence service, and a deeply entrenched terrorist network.
As a precaution, authorities have relieved all nonessential nuclear workers of their security passes and sent them home.
The British defence secretary, Michael Fallon, said that the possibility of the Islamic State obtaining a nuclear weapon “was a new and emerging threat.”
Many experts believe it to be very unlikely that terrorists will obtain enough enriched uranium to create a nuclear bomb. The real danger is in the use of nuclear waste and other by-products to create a ‘dirty-bomb’. If detonated in a subway or airport, a dirty bomb would leave these areas unusable for years as a result of radioactivity.
Others worry that terrorist threats may shut down Belgium nuclear reactors, which provide power for nearly half the country.
These fears come after last year’s discovery of video footage of a top official at Belgium nuclear facility was discovered during a raid on a terrorist suspect. This indicates that the Islamic State at least has an interest in Belgium’s nuclear plants.
Belgium’s nuclear plants have a history of breaches, and they have received warning from Washington and other foreign capitals to shape up many times.
In 2014, an as of yet unidentified individual accessed one of Belgium’s reactors and managed to release 65,000 litres of turbine lubricant. This nearly caused the machinery to overheat. The reactor was shut down, and put out of commission for five months.
While it is unlikely this event is connected with recent terrorist activities, it demonstrates just how vulnerable Belgium’s nuclear reactors are to a possible attack.
Three men have been charged by Belgian authorities in connection with last week’s attack on Brussels. One of these men was caught on security footage with the two suicide bombers shortly before they detonated their vests at the Brussels airport.
The media has identified the man as Fayal Cheffou, and he has been charged with taking part in terrorism, and attempted murder. The other two, Aboubakar A. and Rabah N. were also charged in connection with terrorist activities.
Yvan Mayeur, the mayor of Brussels, said that Cheffou had been detained by police several times before the attack. He would often preach to asylum seekers in a park, urging them to turn towards radical extremism.
The attack in Brussels saw 31 people killed, including the three attackers, and many more wounded. There were victims from over nine nationalities. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, the latest in a set of tragedies that have rocked Europe in the last few months.
It is increasingly believed that the Brussels and Paris attacks were carried out by the same terrorist group. Police across Europe arrested nine people in Belgium and two in Germany in connection with terrorism this last week alone.