Monday 23 April 2018

Belgium issues anti-radiation pills after dirty bomb threat

An Isil fighter waves a flag on a street in the city of Mosul, Iraq. Photo: Reuters
An Isil fighter waves a flag on a street in the city of Mosul, Iraq. Photo: Reuters
Khalid (L) and Ibrahim (R) El Bakraoui Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Matthew Holehouse in Brussels

The entire population of Belgium is to be issued with a ration of iodine tablets, months after warnings about the threat of Isil building a dirty bomb.

Iodine pills, which help reduce radiation build-up in the thyroid gland, had previously only been issued to people living within 20km of the Tihange and Doel nuclear plants.

Maggie De Block, the health minister, said that would be extended to 100km, covering the whole country of 11 million people, following advice from an expert council.

The pills will be sent to pharmacies, and the public would be ordered to collect their ration in the event of a meltdown.

It emerged, following last month's terrorist attacks, that an Isil cell may have been plotting to kidnap a nuclear expert in order to build a "dirty bomb". Eleven nuclear workers had their passes revoked.

Ibrahim and Khalid el-Bakraoui, the brothers behind the suicide strikes on Brussels airport and Metro, are believed to have been involved in the plot to scatter radioactive material over a populated area.

A senior Belgian nuclear industry official was secretly filmed by jihadists late last year, according to the country's nuclear authority, and the brothers were linked to the surveillance.

There are also concerns over Belgium's ageing nuclear plants which have been subject to repeated safety warnings and defects in pressure vessels and fires. Last week Germany asked that the 40-year-old Tihange 2 and Doel 3 reactors be turned off "until the resolution of outstanding security issues". The reactor pressure vessels at both sites have shown signs of metal degradation. They were temporarily closed but resumed service last December.

Belgium's official nuclear safety agency (AFCN) rejected the German request, saying the two plants "respond to the strictest possible safety requirements".

The key figure in the suspected dirty bomb plot is Mohammed Bakkali (28), from Brussels, who was arrested in November on suspicion of helping to plan the Paris massacre.

Police raided his wife's flat and found a 10-hour video from a camera hidden opposite the home of an executive at the Centre for the Study of Nuclear Energy in Mol, northern Belgium. The executive had access to radioactive isotopes at the national nuclear research centre. (© Daily Telegraph London)

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