Belgian authorities fear the Islamic State’s next move after obtaining hours of surveillance footage of a senior nuclear official at the apartment of an alleged terrorist.
Belgian newspaper La Dernière Heure Wednesday reported that the footage was found in a raid of Mohamed Bakkali’s Brussels apartment. Bakkali is held on charges of terrorist activity and murder for his alleged involvement in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, which took 130 lives.
It is unclear why Bakkali targeted the official, but Belgian politicians now fear the Islamic State may have much larger targets in mind.
Edwin Lyman, senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told The Daily Caller News Foundation that an attack on a nuclear power plant could have catastrophic consequences, but also, thankfully, require extensive knowledge of the target.
“A terrorist attack on a nuclear power plant could conceivably result in an event as catastrophic as a severe accident like Chernobyl or Fukushima,” Lyman told TheDCNF in an emailed statement. “It’s not clear to me what information they could glean from the surveillance of the home of a nuclear official alone, unless they were planning to kidnap him and extract information.”
It wouldn’t be the first time terrorists have considered an attack on a power plant. Several attempts in countries such as Argentina, Russia and South Korea have failed. The 9/11 Commission Report also reported that Al Qaida’s original plan included U.S. power plants.
Lyman examined the potential damage an attack on the Indian Point nuclear power plant 35 miles outside New York City could do, in a 2004 study. If it resulted in a core meltdown and a large radiological release, as many as 44,000 people would die short-term, and another 500,000 long-term.
The economic damage would be trillions of dollars.
“Significant damage to the reactor core or spent nuclear fuel resulting in a large release of radioactivity that could expose the public to serious harm and contaminate a large area for decades,” Lyman told TheDCNF. “However, in order for such an attack to be successful, terrorists would need to have some knowledge of the vulnerabilities of the primary and backup safety systems at the plant they are targeting.”
If attackers were to get through the extensive security that surrounds U.S. power plants, it wouldn’t take long to successfully strike.
“[They] would have to evade or defeat security for a period of time sufficient to damage enough equipment that core or spent fuel damage could occur,” Lyman said. “As little as a few minutes if the attacking force knows what it is doing.”
Radioactive material was stolen in November from a facility in Iraq owned by a U.S. company. The U.S. Department of State does not think ISIS obtained the material, but experts say the material could result in fatal injuries with enough exposure. (RELATED: Iraq realizes ‘Highly Dangerous’ Nuclear Material Is Missing, Worries ISIS May Obtain It)
“If they left it in some crowded place, that would be more of the risk, if they kept it together but without shielding,” David Albright, a physicist at the Institute for Science and International Security, told Reuters. “Certainly it’s not insignificant. You could cause some panic with this. They would want to get this back.”
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