Brussels Terror Attacks – The Nuclear Connection

News media are reporting a number of suspicious activities at Belgian nuclear facilities. Some of those media are connecting those activities with last week’s bombing attacks. Information is inconsistent and insufficient for drawing conclusions.

The two articles I’m aware of that best describe the situation are in the New York Times and the Washington Post. I’m quoted in the New York Times article. Rumors are flying thick and fast, and some are pretty improbable. I’m not going to link to them or discuss them in detail. If you’ve heard something you’re wondering about, put it into a comment, and I’ll see what I can do with it.

The short version is that it looks like some group of terrorists had some nuclear ambitions. The authorities in Belgium seem to be most concerned about sabotage of their nuclear plants, rather than a dirty bomb or a fission bomb. In Belgian nuclear facilities, it would be very hard to obtain the materials for the first, impossible for the second.

One of the reactors at Mol runs on highly enriched uranium. The United States, which supplies that uranium, has been urging Belgium to convert the reactor to low-enriched uranium, as similar reactors around the world have been. Limited amounts of uranium-235 are used at Mol to produce medical isotopes like molybdenum-99 and iodine-131.

We probably won’t hear much more reliable for a while, maybe a week or two. European authorities are arresting people every day. That is keeping them busy, and it looks like it will take some investigation to establish links, if any, among those people and the people involved at the nuclear plants. Until then, the New York Times and Washington Post stories are the best information I’ve found.

Update (March 31, 2016): From the New York Times:

Laura Holgate, Mr. Obama’s top adviser on nuclear terrorism, noted on Tuesday that the United States had worked with Belgium to “reduce the amount of nuclear material” at one key site. Asked about the Islamic State’s interest in obtaining nuclear fuel from Belgium, she said, “We don’t have any information that a broader plot exists.”

Top photo is of the Tihange Nuclear Power Plant. The objects at left are cooling towers; the reactors are in the buildings at right. You can see the concrete containment dome for one of them.

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