News / Middle East

Seized Nuclear Material in Iraq Considered 'Low Grade'

FILE - Former Deputy Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Olli Heinonen.
FILE - Former Deputy Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Olli Heinonen.
Reuters

The U.N. atomic agency said on Thursday it believed nuclear material which Iraq said had fallen into the hands of insurgents was “low grade” and did not pose a significant security risk.

Iraq told the United Nations that the material was used for scientific research at a university in the northern town of Mosul and appealed for help to “stave off the threat of their use by terrorists in Iraq or abroad.”

Al-Qaida offshoot, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, took over swaths of Syria and Iraq before renaming itself the Islamic State in June and declaring its leader caliph - a title held by successors of the Prophet Mohammad.

The U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) “is aware of the notification from Iraq and is in contact to seek further details,” IAEA spokeswoman Gill Tudor said.

“On the basis of the initial information we believe the material involved is low grade and would not present a significant safety, security or nuclear proliferation risk,” she said. “Nevertheless, any loss of regulatory control over nuclear and other radioactive materials is a cause for concern.”

Iraq's U.N. Ambassador Mohamed Ali Alhakim told U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a July 8 letter that nearly 40 kg (88 pounds) of uranium compounds were kept at the university.

“Terrorist groups have seized control of nuclear material at the sites that came out of the control of the state,” he said.

No ‘dirty bomb’ material

However, a U.S. government source said the materials were not believed to be enriched uranium and therefore would be difficult to use to manufacture into a nuclear weapon.

Olli Heinonen, a former IAEA chief inspector, said that if the material came from a university it could be laboratory chemicals or radiation shielding, consisting of natural or depleted uranium.

“You cannot make a nuclear explosive from this amount, but all uranium compounds are poisonous,” Heinonen told Reuters. “This material is also not 'good' enough for a dirty bomb.”

In a so-called “dirty bomb,” conventional explosives are used to disperse radiation from any radioactive source, such as from hospitals and factories which are less well protected.

Citing U.N. investigations dating back ten years or more, Heinonen said there should be no enriched uranium in Mosul. The Vienna-based IAEA helped dismantle Iraq's clandestine nuclear program in the 1990s - during Heinonen's three decades there.

“Iraq should not have any nuclear installation left which uses nuclear material in these quantities,” he said.

Any loss or theft of highly enriched uranium, plutonium or other types of radioactive material is potentially serious as militants could try to use them to make a crude nuclear device or a “dirty bomb,” experts say.

Because radioactive material is less hard to find and the device easier to make, experts say a “dirty bomb” - which could cause panic and have serious economic and environmental consequences - is a more likely threat than an actual atom bomb.

“The Mosul region and several university departments were scoured again and again by U.N. inspectors for a decade after the first Gulf War (1990-1991) and they know what materials were stored there,” Mark Hibbs of Carnegie Endowment think tank said.

“These included tons of uranium liquid wastes, sources, uranium oxides, and uranium tetrafluoride. Some of these items are still there, but there's no enriched uranium,” he said.

You May Like

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

There is growing uncertainty over whether West’s response to ISIS is adequate More

China Crackdown on Dual Citizens Causes Concern

New policy encourages reporting people who obtain citizenship in another country, but retain Chinese citizenship; move spurs sharp debate More

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

Losing ground to Islamic State fighters, Syria's government says it is ready to cooperate with international community More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?i
X
Henry Ridgwell
August 29, 2014 12:26 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Pachyderms Play Polo to Raise Money for Elephants

Polo, the ancient team competition typically played on horseback, is known as the “sport of kings.” However, the royal version for one annual event in Thailand swaps the horse for the kingdom’s national symbol - the elephant. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Samut Prakan reports that the King’s Cup Elephant Polo tournament is all for a good cause.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video America's Most Popular Artworks Displayed in Public Places

Public places in cities across America were turned into open-air art galleries in August. Pictures of the nation’s most popular artworks were displayed on billboards, bus shelters, subway platforms and more. The idea behind “Art Everywhere,” a collaborative campaign by five major museums is to allow more people to enjoy art and learn about the country’s culture and history. Faiza Elmasry has more.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

Israel and the Gaza Strip have been calm since a cease-fire set in Tuesday evening, ending seven weeks of hostilities. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared victory. Israelis were more wart. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. Shaikh Azizur Rahman reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid