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Enquiry into nuclear plant sabotage comes to no conclusion

© Alexandre Jacquemin/Wikimedia

The seven-year-long investigation into an attempted sabotage of the Doel nuclear power plant in 2014 has ended inconclusively. 

The incident took place on 5 August 2014, when the reactor at the Doel 4 installation shut down automatically. Inspections revealed a disturbance in the steam turbine in a non-nuclear part of the complex.

It soon became clear that the problem was an act of sabotage: someone had manually opened a valve in the plant evacuation system, intended to quickly evacuate the 65,000 litres of oil used to lubricate the turbine to an emergency reservoir in the case of fire.

No order had been given to open the valve, and operators Electrabel filed a criminal complaint for sabotage with the prosecutor’s office in Dendermonde in East Flanders. But when the possibility of a terrorist motive was raised, the investigation moved to the federal prosecutor’s office, where all terrorist cases are handled.

One of the first discoveries made by investigators was the dubious status of the plant’s own security measures. There were no CCTV cameras in strategic places – like the vicinity of the blue valve that set off the alarm – to check who had opened it.

And the badge system used in the plant left a lot to be desired. Only after the incident was the so-called ‘four eyes’ system introduced, by which strategic areas of the plant could only be visited by a minimum of two staff at any one time.

The investigators ended by concluding that the incident was an inside job, carried out by an employee or subcontractor who had a legitimate reason to be in the area, although not of course to open the valve.

The valve in question. © Federal Police

One witness described an unknown man, white with dark clothing and glasses or safety goggles. The suspect has, not surprisingly, never been traced.

Now, despite having gathered evidence of clearly suspicious activities including locks filled with glue and pumps being closed down, the investigation has officially ended with no result: no suspects have been identified, and whoever started the whole emergency will not have to fear prosecution as things now stand.

“The judicial investigation has been closed by the investigating magistrate after a very extensive and thorough investigation in which nothing has remained unexamined,” said Wenke Roggen, spokesperson for the federal prosecutor.

The investigating magistrate has not formally charged anyone. However, certain objections have been raised against certain persons. The federal prosecutor’s office must now decide whether these are sufficiently serious to demand a referral to the criminal court.”

The Doel nuclear power plant is now owned by Engie-Electrabel, and contains four nuclear reactors, of which Doel 4 was started up in 1985. They are located along the left bank of the Scheldt, near the village of Doel, which sits across the river from Antwerp, but is in fact a sub-municipality of Beveren in East Flanders. Belgium has seven nuclear reactors at two sites. The other three are in Tihange in Liege province.