Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Militant interest in attacking nuclear sites stirs concern in Europe

Baku-APA. Meter-thick concrete walls and 1950s-style analog control rooms help protect nuclear plants from bomb attacks and computer hackers, but Islamist militants are turning their attention to the atomic industry's weak spots, security experts say, APA reports quoting Reuters.
Concerns about nuclear terrorism rose after Belgian media reported that suicide bombers who killed 32 people in Brussels on March 22 originally looked into attacking a nuclear installation before police raids that netted a number of suspected associates forced them to switch targets.
Security experts say that blowing up a nuclear reactor is beyond the skills of militant groups, but that the nuclear industry has some vulnerabilities that could be exploited.
"The insider threat is one of the most difficult to deal with, as this hinges on the ability to screen employees and figure out the nature of their intentions," said Page Stoutland at the U.S.-based Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), citing recent reported incidents in Belgium.
His assessment reflects growing anxiety among Western governments and regulators, including the U.N. nuclear watchdog (IAEA), about the risk of radicalised individuals gaining access to sensitive energy infrastructure, including nuclear sites.
In 2014, an investigation into a deliberate act of sabotage at Belgium's Doel 4 nuclear reactor found that a former employee of the plant had died earlier in the year while fighting with Islamist militants in Syria.
In December, Belgian police found a video tracking the movements of a senior nuclear industry official during a search of a flat as part of investigations into the Islamic State attacks in Paris on Nov. 13 that killed 130 people. Security around Belgian nuclear power stations was ramped up as a result.
Industry experts say that deliberately triggering a disastrous meltdown of a nuclear reactor would be difficult as nobody is ever alone in its control room, which typically has four to six operators there at all times.
This, according to Bertrand Barre, a former executive at Areva, the state-owned nuclear reactor manufacturer, would reduce the risk of a suicide mission like the Germanwings disaster last year in which a pilot locked himself in the cockpit and crashed his plane into a mountain.
Deliberate acts of sabotage cannot be ruled out, though. In 2014, the Doel 4 reactor was halted four months after someone purposely damaged its turbine by draining 65,000 liters of oil. The perpetrator was never found.
The risk of cyber attacks is also increasing. Most nuclear plants were built before the Internet or even the computer age, and their control rooms run on 20th-century analog technology. But the NTI says that nuclear plants are now digitalizing quickly, increasing the risk that hackers could commandeer them.

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