The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approved the shipment of enough enriched uranium to build five nuclear weapons to a Belgian nuclear facility that was previously targeted by Islamic State-linked terrorists.
Belgium plans to bring 317 pounds of weapons-grade uranium to a nuclear research center in Mol. Security footage caught terrorists casing the facility more than a year ago, according to The New York Times.
Police found surveillance footage of a senior Belgian nuclear official in a raid on the Brussels apartment of alleged terrorist Mohamed Bakkali last February. The footage caused officials to worry ISIS may try to target nuclear infrastructure.
“This will be at least 29 shipments which will have to occur by 2023,” Dr. Alan Kuperman, coordinator of the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project at the University of Texas, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “This is the largest amount of bomb grade uranium approved for export in 5 years. It’s gonna be used for reactor fuel at this reactor targeted by ISIS.”
A successful attempt to steal uranium from a nuclear power plant could have catastrophic consequences, however unlikely.
“There have been other reported threats to Belgian nuclear facilities,” Kuperman said. “How hard it would be to make a bomb would depend on how much uranium they get. If you got over 55 pounds of this stuff you could make a Hiroshima like ‘gun-type’ nuclear weapon relatively easily. If you have less than that, making a bomb is harder, but not impossible for a sophisticated terrorist group.”
“This is uranium you could hold in your hand without much real danger to yourself, so it would be easy to transport,” Kuperman continued. “If you just put some lead around it, you could get this stuff through most radiation detectors. Any amount of uranium of more than 11 pounds is considered to be a serious risk by the U.S. government.”
Last August, Kuperman filed a petition against the uranium export application, claiming that aspects of it were illegal. U.S. officials canceled the shipment last February, about one month before a series of deadly terror attacks in Brussels.
“Under U.S. law, the NRC has the authority to say yes or no to this,” Kuperman noted. “The NRC decided to be deferential to the industry. They did take some action to limit the license, reducing it from 11 to 6 years.”
Official correspondences shows the Belgian government asked America’s NRC and National Nuclear Security Administration to suspend its weapons-grade uranium order to fuel a nuclear research center in Mol. Belgian officials only cancelled the uranium order so the country could restructure how it would receive the enriched uranium.
France has a similar high performance reactor that runs on highly enriched American-supplied uranium.
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