The leak at Belgium’s Fleurus nuclear reactor this week followed the same old familiar and disgraceful pattern we see after leaks all over the world: cover up and denial followed by admission that things are worse than first admitted.
The accident at Fleurus took place when liquid radioactive waste was transferred from one tank to another releasing the isotope iodine-131. The public was told there was no health risk . As is usual in these cases, it was soon revealed that this was not true.
Today we find that the Belgian authorities have restricted the consumption of vegetables and milk produced within five kilometres Fleurus. The announcement was made an incredible five days after the leak took place. The incident has been graded as 3 (serious incident) on the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES) scale. Production of medical radioisotopes at the facility, run by Institut des Radioelements (IRE) has now been halted.
Unbelievably, Belgium’s nuclear watchdog Federal Agency for Nuclear Control (FANC) has been complicit in the cover-up and hiding the danger from the public. Even though it advised the public that there was ‘no risk to the population’ it knew even as it made the statement that this was not true and communicated this to the IAEA International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
FANC has now admitted that the does of radiation the public could be exposed to could be as high at 20 per cent of the annual maximum dose. FNC have not released information about the impact on children’s health, which could be significantly higher due to their higher sensitivity to iodine-131.
Serious questions needs to be asked and straight answers demanded. Why was there a delay in announcing the danger to the public? Why did FANC advise the public there was no danger while telling IAEA there could be significant exposure? Why have stricter safety control not been put in place despite a catalogue of incidents in recent years at Fleurus. What measures are now being put in place to protect public health?
This, frankly, is an outrage. Somebody made the decisions to cover up what happened at Fleurus and delayed for vital days in announcing measure to keep the people around the site safe. This is people’s lives we’re talking about here. Who made the decisions and why? They must be held accountable. Is there more bad news to come? How are the people in Belgium and the wider region to have any confidence whatsoever in nuclear when those responsible (and those in charge of holding them to those responsibilities) act in such a reckless and dangerous way?