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Nuclear Experts Locate Uranium

IAEA team secured tons of the radioactive substance feared looted from a facility outside Baghdad, diplomats say.

June 21, 2003|From Associated Press

VIENNA — Experts from the United Nations atomic agency have accounted for tons of uranium feared looted from Iraq's largest nuclear research facility, diplomats said Friday.

The natural and low-enriched uranium was secured at the Tuwaitha facility, 15 miles south of Baghdad, the diplomats said on condition of anonymity. Tuwaitha was left unguarded after Iraqi troops fled the area on the eve of the war.

U.S. troops didn't secure the area until April 7. In the meantime, looters from surrounding villages had stripped it of uranium storage barrels they later used to hold drinking water.

The International Atomic Energy Agency sent a team to Iraq this month to secure the uranium at the Tuwaitha site.

The U.S.-led interim administration of Iraq did not allow the mission to give medical exams to Iraqis reported to have been sickened by contact with the materials, the diplomats said.

The IAEA team also was unable to determine whether hundreds of radioactive materials used in research and medicine across the country were secure. Officials fear that such material could be used to make crude radioactive bombs.

The experts, who began their work at Tuwaitha on June 7, were not able to determine how much the plant was damaged during the war.

The diplomats, who are familiar with the workings of the IAEA, agreed to discuss the mission on condition of anonymity.

IAEA representatives could not be reached for comment.

Tuwaitha was thought to contain hundreds of tons of natural uranium and nearly two tons of low-enriched uranium, which could be further processed for arms use.

The diplomats did not detail how much uranium had been looted or where it was found, but it appeared that much of it was on or near the site.

U.S. military officials who accompanied the IAEA team said last week that initial assessments indicated that most of the uranium that had been stored at the Tuwaitha nuclear research center was accounted for.

Although at least 20% of the containers that stored the uranium were taken from the site, it appeared that looters had dumped the uranium before taking the barrels.

U.S. military experts involved in the cleanup found piles of uranium in the storerooms and also purchased most of the looted barrels back from the surrounding villages for $3 per barrel.

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