Serious Sabotage

Security screening The news story about a sabotage attempt at Doel 4 nuclear plant in Belgium highlights the need for a more proactive and threat-oriented approach to security.  The Doel power plant is located in East Flanders and sits on 200 acres, employing 800 people.  Nine million people live within 47 miles of the plant.

 

26 year old Morrocan born Ilyass Boughalab served as a technical inspector at Doel 4.  He was employed by AIB-Vincotte Belgium which is a technical services company that performed safety inspections at the plant.  His job was to verify welds giving him access to secure areas.  He quit his job and under the auspices of Sharia4Belgium (a Belgian radical Salafist organisation that aims to reform Belgium into an Islamist state), made his way to Syria at the end of 2012 to join Al Qaida inspired jihadists there.

 

In August, it was discovered that a valve in the oil lubricant tank was damaged, resulting in the overheating of a steam turbine.  The valve is normally secured with a padlock and would have been opened only in the event of a fire, making the circumstances suspicious.

 

The overheating incident shut down the plant which is not expected to go back on line until the beginning of next year.  The suspected sabotage, according to Geetha keyaert of Electrabel its main stakeholder, was indeed probably a deliberate act.  Investigations are continuing with all fingers pointing to Boughalab who is facing charges in an Antwerp court that could take him to prison.

 

Boughalab passed Human Resource and Security screening and was deemed an efficient employee whose work, according to a written response about the event from Vincotte, had been “flawless”.  But from the point of view of a security professional, the caliber of work of a potential terrorist in irrelevant.  Or, what is relevant about his being an exemplary employee is knowing that a terrorist, or criminal, would avoid drawing negative attention to themselves.  No speeding on the freeway.  Keep quiet and fade into the environment.

 

Nele Scheerlinck, spokesperson for the Federal Agency for Nuclear Control (FANC) confirmed that the event was being taken seriously and that sabotage of this kind was “unacceptable.”  But, and this is key, she went on to say that the screening process in place would not be changed, that screening there is “very rigorous” and that there is little room for improvement.

 

Given the risk potential at such sites, and the obvious act of sabotage, leaving screening protocols as they are seems … overly optimistic?  Given the rise in terrorism, and the large number of terrorists who are “homegrown” with easy access to critical sites, we need to be more vigilant.  Not nonchalant.

3 Comments

  1. J H Booth on October 17, 2014 at 7:48 am

    Something in this story does not pass the smell test.
    It is written:

    “The valve is normally secured with a padlock and would have been opened only in the event of a fire, making the circumstances suspicious.”

    As a retired US Navy Nuclear Submarine Officer, I find it very suspicious that a valve that should be opened in an emergency, such as a fire, is padlocked shut. From a nuclear safety standpoint, the last thing you want is to have a technician during a nuclear power plant fire running around looking for a padlock key or combination to unlock a critical valve.

    While on the surface, blaming a radical islamic worker for sabotage fits nicely into today’s somewhat paranoid hysteria which supports the witch hunt for making all employees a potential terrorist: I’d prefer to fall back on “Occam’s Razor”. From my nuclear plant operating experience, I would support poor maintenance, poor operating procedures, and poor supervision of the work force as the more likely cause of this incident. Blaming, this guy as a potential terrorist is an easy way to avoid any potential liability in today’s climate. It is also a good way for the the plant operator to avoid any fiscal responsibility for not performing preventive maintenance and not following recognized operating procedures.

    Without more information, I have to question this as an act of a home grown terrorist.

    • Anonymous on April 6, 2016 at 7:46 am

      With 30 years experience in power plant operation I also need more information regarding a locked valve on a steam turbine related to a lubricating system.
      Maybe a throttled and set valve or possibly a leather strap that could be cut such as is often used on fire service isolators or possibly bypass valves.
      But there appears to be either incorrect or missing information involved.

  2. Peter on October 17, 2014 at 3:12 pm

    Interesting observation – thank you J H.

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