- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 1, 2003

NEW YORK (AP) The United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency has sent an emergency mission to Nigeria to help find an undisclosed amount of missing or stolen radioactive material, the agency said yesterday.

Nigeria asked the U.N. nuclear watchdog's Emergency Response Center for help in early February after the materials disappeared from an oil company in the southern Niger Delta oil region.

Agency workers arrived Feb. 16, an agency representative said on the condition of anonymity.

Among the missing material is beryllium, a cancer-causing, radioactive material also used in the nuclear industry, the Vienna, Austria-based agency said.

Fox News reported that americium, a man-made radioactive element, was also stolen.

Nigeria's nuclear regulatory board has told the public of the missing material, urging caution if anyone finds it because of the dangers of radiation poisoning

It was not clear what function the missing material played in oil production. Radioactive materials are used in the oil industry for purposes including X-raying pipelines.

Nigerian authorities said in early February they were worried the material could fall into the hands of people who might use it for purposes that could threaten public safety. They have put all security agencies on alert.

Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist group has attempted to obtain radioactive material to build a so-called dirty bomb, in which a conventional explosion is used to spread radiation.

Nigeria is the world's sixth-largest oil exporter, and nearly all of the oil comes from the Niger Delta. But it has no known nuclear program.

Oil companies' facilities in the delta are the object of frequent attacks by saboteurs and thieves.

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