A Belgian Chernobyl?

On the morning of March 22nd, a gleam of red dawn was unfolding above Brussels, as a series of deadly explosions wreaked havoc in Belgium’s capital. Two explosions went off in the main airport of Zaventem around 8 a.m. Brussels time, with a third one occurring at the Maelbeek metro station near the European Union’s headquarters about an hour later. The bombings were orchestrated by the Islamic State and are considered to be the deadliest act of terrorism in Belgium’s history.

More than 30 people were killed during this attack and at least 250 were injured. The Belgian government consecrated the following days for mourning while people from all around the world gathered around flowers, candles and messages expressing sympathy for the families of the victims.

But why target Belgium some may ask? While terrorism spares no nation, the terrorist group ISIS has been, ever since last year’s Paris attack, perceiving Belgium as an exploitable wound from which it could fire an arrow at the heart of its western enemies.

However, during these bombings, Belgian authorities weren’t solely focused on the occurring tragedy in the capital, for a faint but increasingly worrying threat was looming around the country’s nuclear installations. Located a few miles off the German border, employees of the Tihange nuclear power plant were quickly evacuated following the first reports of the attack.

Belgium currently has two nuclear power plants: “Tihange”, near the city of Liège, and “Doel” near the port of Antwerp. These nuclear giants share a total of seven reactors, used to generate an amount of more than 50% of the country’s energy. Despite the fact that both plants have exceeded their original operational lifespan, the Belgian government tends to recklessly keep pushing their retirement dates. In the past few years, a list of recurring accidents (fires, cracks, water leaks…) made neighboring countries question the safety of these nuclear power plants. Some even considered taking legal action forcing Belgium to shut down these reactors for good. So why were the employees of Tihange evacuated? And how could Belgium’s aging nuclear infrastructure pose a threat to the heart of Europe?

Just two days after the attacks occurred, a security guard at a Belgian nuclear facility was found murdered, with his security cards stolen. These entry cards (which give free access to most nuclear sites in Belgium) were deactivated soon after the discovery of the murder. While the crime remains unsolved, officials quickly denied the guard’s death’s relation to the terrorist attack. Nevertheless, it’s hard to think that this act of aggression is a mere coincidence, especially after knowing that the nuclear plant where the guard used to work is located in the judicial district of Charleroi, the same place where the Paris attacks were planned last November.

Following three days of fear, the ongoing investigations in Brussels’ deadly attacks revealed that the Islamic State might be planning to infiltrate the 40-year-old nuclear installations. A successful infiltration could lead to a sabotage of the power plant, causing an uncontrollable chain of reactions that could turn, with the obvious lack of security measures, into the next Chernobyl!

Five years ago a natural disaster in Japan triggered meltdowns at the Fukushima plant; twenty-five years earlier a human error in Chernobyl caused the world’s worst nuclear disaster. A radioactive nightmare in Belgium could have greater casualties than either Fukushima or Chernobyl, since the plants are located in a more densely populated area that stretches far beyond the borders of Belgium.

To top it all, two workers from a nuclear power plant in Doel were reported to have fled to Syria to join jihadists’ ranks just last year. With both an extensive understanding of the Belgian nuclear facilities and an unregulated access to them, we can no longer deny the imminent danger of the Islamic State obtaining a nuclear weapon or the nuclear disaster it might be setting for Europe.

So what’s truly behind the Brussels bombings, if not a mere demonstration of how vulnerable Belgium’s security is, how fragile the European unity is, and how volatile the terrorist threat is shaping to be… Today, Europe lies threatened more than ever by the black flags of the Islamic State.

Lighting up monuments or offering social media condolences won’t help prevent a future massacre; building walls and discriminating Muslims won’t shield people either. Those considering a temporary suspension of the Schengen agreement should start by securing the local nuclear power plants! Belgium’s network of nuclear power stations is widely vulnerable: besides being an obvious terrorist target, the installations are archaic and fissured with dangerous micro-cracks, turning these structures into dormant nuclear volcanoes…

Will negligence and security lapses help terrorists today create an inferno at the heart of Europe? Cities and districts from all around Europe already joined forces, leading campaigns and petitions to shut down and renovate these old reactors before the next successful sabotage attempt takes place. Will it be enough to avert another calamity?

 

Sometimes, one more voice can help prevent a nuclear disaster! Sign the petition, and add yours to this ecological and humanitarian cause:

https://secure.avaaz.org/en/belgian_nuclear_shutdown_loc/?r=act

 

Anthony Farhat

Second year law student

 

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