Belgium boosts security at nuclear plants after Brussels bombings

Belgium boosts security at nuclear plants after Brussels bombings

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Brussels terror attacks revive fears of nuclear terrorism and call for urgent measures to secure nuclear assets and facilities

Security has been beefed up at Belgium’s two nuclear power plants, following the attacks in Brussels on Tuesday which have revived fears of nuclear terrorism.

The Tihange power plant, an hour’s drive from the Belgian capital, and the Doel power plant in Antwerp were reportedly evacuated after the bombing amid fears they could be the next target after the Brussels attacks.

Terrorists may have aimed to blow up a nuclear power plant in Brussels, Belgian newspaper Derniere Heure reported. This is why security has been enhanced at both Doel, which houses four reactors, and Tihange, which houses three.

The two plants have been closed, with “systematic control” of all vehicles coming and going, Anne-Sophie Hugé, a company spokeswoman told Politico. Non-essential staff at the Doel and Tihange plants have been sent home although key staff will remain in order to ensure the plants continue to operate.

But the operations at Belgian nuclear power plants have been fully restored now.

Earlier on Tuesday, at least 34 people were killed and some 230 injured in two bomb blasts in the Brussels Zaventem airport and an explosion at the Maalbeek metro station in central Brussels.

Armed police and the Belgian military have been on site since the weekend following growing calls from the energy industry to beef up security at the potentially vulnerable plants. Increased security measures include more surveillance and the checking of vehicles by police and the army.

Earlier this month, around 140 extra Belgian soldiers were deployed to patrol the country’s nuclear sites, according to news reports. The additional security measures were initiated by the Belgian Interior Minister Jan Jambon.

In Belgium, worries over the security of nuclear plants are not new. In the wake of Boughalab’s death, several people have been refused access or removed from nuclear sites after displaying signs of extremism, according to Belgium’s Federal Agency for Nuclear Control. The Doel nuclear plant was hobbled by sabotage in 2014. Evidence of recent ISIS surveillance of a senior Belgian nuclear worker added to the known threat.

As former Defense secretary Robert Gates said, “Every senior leader, when you’re asked what keeps you awake at night, it’s the thought of a terrorist ending up with a weapon of mass destruction, especially nuclear.”

What IAEA suggests to secure nuclear assets?

The IAEA, the world’s nuclear watchdog, has security recommendations, but it is up to each country to develop regulations and enforce them.

IAEA’s Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) makes it legally binding for countries to protect nuclear facilities and material.

CPPNM also requires States to minimize any radiological consequences of sabotage, and to prevent and combat related offenses so as to reduce the likelihood of terrorists being able to detonate a radioactive dispersal device, otherwise known as a ‘dirty bomb’. It would also reduce the risk of a terrorist attack on a nuclear power plant that could create a release of radioactivity.

Next week’s Nuclear Security Summit in Washington DC an opportunity to learn and improve nuclear defenses.

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