Nuclear nightmare in Iraq

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Posted by Andreas from ( on Tuesday, June 03, 2003 at 4:55AM :

29 May 2003

Nuclear nightmare in Iraq

Throughout May, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has expressed mounting concern at the outbreak of looting that has been taking place at Iraq's abandoned nuclear sites - which number around 1,000 in total. JID has commissioned a leading British nuclear analyst to assess the security risk posed by the missing material and the golden opportunities the chaos in Iraq may have presented to international terrorists.

According to eyewitness reports as many as 400 looters a day have been ransacking the Al-Tuwaitha complex south of Baghdad, regarded as the main site for Iraq's former nuclear weapons programme and covering an area of 120 acres. The crowd got in by simply cutting the surrounding barbed-wire fence in the absence of security patrols.

Seals placed at Iraqi nuclear sites by the IAEA during past inspections have been tampered with and metal containers of 300-400kg of natural and low-enriched uranium and uranium oxide, either stolen or tipped out and the containers used for domestic purposes such as milking cows and storing drinking water, milk and tomatoes intended for human consumption. Documents and lab equipment have been stolen, while other materials have been dumped on the floors. The environmental consequences may prove disastrous.

Many drums of radioactive material, including plutonium, were found behind steel doors in Al-Tuwaitha's Building 39, a permanent storage site for low-level nuclear waste. The lock had been broken on Building 55 and readings consistent with thorium, cobalt and caesium were recorded. Some cylinders were emitting so much gamma and neutron radiation that the team could not interpret the results. Radioactive material may have been deliberately left there to expose the occupying forces to levels that would prove dangerous.

On 20 May, US authorities finally removed their objection to resumption of IAEA inspections in Iraq. The US has asked the inspectors to examine the plant along with its own experts, and will consider the return of UN weapons inspectors to Iraq to hunt for the elusive weapons of mass destruction.

The chaos in Iraq is creating the kind of environmental and security risks previously seen only in the territories of the former Soviet Union after 1991.

The Baghdad Nuclear Research Facility, another important nuclear site that has been looted, houses the remains of the Osirak reactor bombed by Israel in 1981 and the USA during the 1991 Gulf war. It contains spent reactor fuel, as well as radioactive isotopes including caesium and cobalt - materials that could be used by terrorists for making radiological dispersal devices (commonly known as 'dirty bombs'). Terrorists could obtain the material either directly or from looters selling material on the black market.

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