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Most Missing Iraqi Uranium Accounted For, says UN Atomic Agency - 2003-07-16

The International Atomic Energy Agency said most of the missing uranium at a major nuclear site in Iraq has been recovered and resealed.

The IAEA sent experts last month to the Tuwaitha nuclear research facility, just south of Baghdad, to investigate reports of looting by the local population in the post-war chaos in Iraq.

In a report released Wednesday, the United Nations nuclear watchdog said it had accounted for most of the looted nuclear material at Tuwaitha, Iraq's main nuclear facility. But that at least 10 kilograms of low-grade uranium may have been dispersed.

IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei wrote in the report "The quantity and type of uranium compounds dispersed are not sensitive from a proliferation point of view."

Shortly after the fighting ended in Iraq, looters broke into a storage facility outside the Tuwaitha complex and at least six other nuclear sites in Iraq and emptied out the contents of hundreds of containers of nuclear material.

The IAEA said its mission was limited to the Tuwaitha site by the U.S. authorities, and therefore it could give no assurances on reports of looted uranium from other nuclear facilities in Iraq. The IAEA also said it was not able to examine Iraqis living near Tuwaitha to see if they were suffering from radiation sickness.

Agency spokesman Mark Gwozdecky said the Tuwaitha facility is very large and that the team had to work under difficult conditions.

"There's a very large storage facility with a large quantity of uranium that was just dumped on the surface of a facility in a great mound and among the things they had to do was repackage all of that and in a confined quarter and with 40 to 45 degrees temperatures. It was uncomfortable. They needed in the end some specialized equipment, I believe, including breathing apparatus," Mr. Gwozdecky said.

One of the issues the IAEA team was investigating was whether enough material was dispersed from Tuwaitha to create what had been described as a "radiological emergency."

There were fears that terrorists could obtain enough material to build a so-called "dirty bomb." But the report said the 10 kilograms of low-grade uranium that may have been dispersed would be of little use in making a dirty bomb.