- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 15, 2003

The U.N.’s nuclear-watchdog group advised the Security Council yesterday that nuclear compounds missing from Iraq’s southern nuclear-storage facility have been mostly recovered and that material still missing is not a proliferation concern.

The International Atomic Energy Agency report, which was to be released in Vienna, Austria, today, should ease concerns raised by widespread reports of missing nuclear materials after looters broke into the Tuwaitha facility when Iraqi troops fled the area during the war.

U.N. sources said the report was vetted by the Pentagon before it was sent to New York, suggesting some portions may have been edited.

The report notes that some 22 pounds of missing uranium compounds “could have been dispersed” as looters trashed the warehouse.

The agency said some 200 containers in the storage facility were emptied, scattering the uranium across the floor, and that many containers were missing altogether.

But the quantity and type of uranium dispersed “are not sensitive from a proliferation point of view,” emphasized the IAEA director-general’s report, dated Monday.

Nevertheless, the director-general requested that the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq “make every effort to recover this dispersed material” and return it under seal to the Location C Nuclear Material Storage Facility under IAEA safeguards.

The IAEA inspection of the Tuwaitha Location C facility — whose inventory comprised low-enriched, natural and depleted uranium — took place from June 7 to June 23 with logistical support provided by the CPA.

According to the IAEA report, the nuclear material was housed in two buildings. One contained a variety of uranium oxides and uranium chlorides and yellowcake. The second building held yellowcake and ammonium diurante (ADU) waste.

IAEA inspectors found that seals affixed to the buildings in December 2002 had been torn off.

Most of the ruin was in the first building, where many containers were missing. Others were emptied and “a large floor area” was covered by the contents.

The IAEA reported that its inspection team recovered and repackaged the material on the floor, and said that many of the missing containers were subsequently recovered.

Yellowcake — a bright-yellow industrial mix of various uranium oxides — missing from a drum was also recovered along with two containers of ADU waste in the second building.

According to the Federation of American Scientists, the roughly 22 pounds of uranium compounds that could have been dispersed in the upheaval would likely have very low radioactivity and would not be useful in making a so-called “dirty” bomb.

“It is more dangerous because it is a toxic metal, like lead. You would not want to ingest it,” said Jaime Yassif, with the federation’s Strategic Security Project. “It would be an environmental concern if it contaminated water supplies.

“The reason people are concerned about uranium is because if it is highly enriched it could be used in a nuclear weapon. But if the IAEA is saying it is not a proliferation concern, it is very unlikely it is highly enriched uranium.”

The report said the still-missing compounds could be explained if a few grams of natural uranium remained stuck on the walls or bottom folds of each of the roughly 200 containers emptied by the looters.

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