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IAEA Wants Inspectors Back in Iraq - 2003-05-19

The International Atomic Energy Agency wants its inspectors back in Iraq to deal with "a possible radiological emergency."

The head of the IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei, is frustrated with what he calls the U.S. government's lack of response to his calls for U.N. inspectors to return to Iraq.

Mr. ElBaradei says media reports of looting and destruction at nuclear sites pose a risk to safety in Iraq that may be out of control. The agency is concerned by reports of radiation sickness among people living near nuclear sites.

A spokesman for the IAEA, Mark Gwozdecky, says if radioactive material has been stolen there are serious risks. He says it could be used to make a nuclear weapon, and could also pose a danger to anyone who comes into contact with it.

The IAEA has reports that its seals at the Tuwaitha nuclear site near Baghdad have been broken. The agency wrote to the U.S. government twice last month asking for assurances that the site would made safe. The agency provided the U.S. authorities with an exact inventory so that it could identify missing materials.

According to Mr. Gwozdecky the site is huge, and includes more than 70 buildings. In addition, some radioactive material is stored at another site about one kilometer away.

Besides Tuwaitha, the U.N. inspectors say there are more than 1,000 sites where radioactive material has been stored in Iraq for use in industry or medicine. The IAEA says it has an international mandate to secure nuclear material in Iraq and the teams with the experience to do the job.