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Officials in Congo Say No Nuclear Materials Missing - 2002-07-11

Authorities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have received support from an unlikely source for their contention that no nuclear materials are missing from the small research reactor in Kinshasa.

Nuclear officials in Kinshasa reacted with predictable outrage when the Voice of America reported last week that not one but two fuel rods have gone missing from the research reactor and that one is still unaccounted for.

In a statement, these officials denounced the VOA report as "absurd" and an "invention," even though the source of the disclosure about the missing low-enriched nuclear materials came from the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Its spokesman revealed the IAEA had known about the missing rods since the mid-1970s, keeping silent about the matter until four years ago when one of the fuel elements was recovered in Italy from criminals. It kept silent about the second missing rod until VOA raised questions this month about the additional loss.

Now the IAEA has come to the support of authorities in the Congo, explaining their denial of any lost nuclear materials.

In a statement to VOA, IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky said "several years ago the Congolese adjusted the inventory of their material to take into consideration the two missing fuel elements."

Mr. Gwozdecky said their denial therefore "is accurate from the standpoint of this new baseline for their inventory."

As for the IAEA's own quarter-century-long silence on the missing material, the spokesman explains that all so-called nuclear safeguards information is confidential.

But he reveals the latest inspection of the one megawatt Kinshasa research reactor took place just this past Tuesday, July 9. He called the inspection routine, despite the recent publicity. He said all nuclear materials at the facility were accounted for, minus, of course, the one missing fuel element no longer carried on the reactor's official inventory.