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Nuclear: a “fake news” creates a panic in Wallonia

One of the main news sites of the country, RTL Info, was imitated to spread false information about an atomic explosion about thirty kilometers from Liege.

The public prosecutor’s office in Liege, Belgium, opened an investigation on Saturday, September 29, after the spread of false information about a nuclear explosion that triggered panic among some inhabitants of Wallonia. “Alert: atomic explosion in Tihange”, had titled, in the night from Friday to Saturday, one of the main news sites of the country, RTL Info. At least, we could believe it. Its opening page had, in fact, been imitated and diverted, with a nearly perfect copy of its logo and its packaging.

Two of the three reactors at the Tihange plant, operated by Electrabel, a subsidiary of Engie, are currently shut down due to technical problems.

The rumor quickly swelled. Rescue services and the police received numerous calls and panicked residents hastily left their homes, despite a quick denial from RTL Info, broadcast at the request of the crisis center of the Ministry of the Interior. The Federal Judicial Police and experts from the Computer Crime Unit, which specializes in the analysis of computer systems, are trying to determine the hacker’s IP address. He faces a sentence of six months to five years imprisonment and a heavy fine, up to 800,000 euros. RTL Info complained about the usurpation of its image.

The author of the fake news obviously wanted to play on the fears while two of the three reactors of the Tihange plant, operated by Electrabel, a subsidiary of Engie, are currently at a standstill due to technical problems. Anomalies in the concrete of the tanks are currently under investigation. The third reactor must be subjected to a thorough interview soon.

Expected nuclear release in 2025

According to antinuclear demonstrators from Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany who were marching Saturday in the Tihange area, a possible incident in this plant would result in the evacuation of five million inhabitants and have repercussions within a radius of 250 kilometers.

Belgium, whose fleet is very old, must, in principle, out of the nuclear power in 2025 – the first decision dates from 2003 – but is obviously not ready for this deadline. In November, six of the kingdom’s seven reactors will be shut down, suggesting a real risk of scarcity and blackout.

Electrabel recently announced the postponement of several months of the restart of the Tihange 2 and 3 reactors, initially scheduled for this autumn. Energy Minister Marie-Christine Marghem accuses the operator of mismanagement. It hopes to buy the missing electricity in France, Germany or the Netherlands, which poses unresolved technical problems at this stage.

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