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U.S. Warned But Powell Claims No Knowledge of Nuclear Looting
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See Also:
Iraq: Citizens Stole Uranium and Other Dangerous Materials
Iraqi Nuclear Site Is Found Looted

Source: ENN

U.N. agency wants to investigate Iraq nuclear looting

06 May 2003

By Louis Charbonneau, Reuters

VIENNA, Austria The U.N. nuclear watchdog agency said Monday it had asked the United States to let it send a mission to Iraq to investigate reports of widespread looting at the country's nuclear facilities.

The spokeswoman for the International Atomic Energy Agency said IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei had written to the United States with a request to send a mission to Iraq "... to investigate the state of the facilities there."

"We have not yet received a response," spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said. She added the letter was dated April 29, nearly a week ago. "We have been assured by the U.S. that they would secure these facilities, but the agency finds these reports (of looting) disturbing."

U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said, "We're in touch with them (IAEA) on various issues all the time. But there's no decisions at this point about what role they may or may not play in terms of evaluating and monitoring at this point."

Last month the IAEA asked the United States to secure Iraq's nuclear facilities to protect them from looters in the post-war chaos. Washington assured the U.N. it would prevent the removal of material from these sites.

But the Washington Post reported Sunday that sites housing large amounts of highly radioactive material appeared to have been looted and that it was impossible to say whether nuclear materials were missing.

Boucher said Monday, "Coalition forces have secured the facilities that house the natural and low enriched uranium that was at those sites. (I would) Remind you none of this material was usable in nuclear weapons; all of this uranium would require significant processing in order to be suitable for enrichment for weapons use."

The IAEA, whose nuclear weapons inspectors returned to Baghdad last November after a four-year hiatus, has a detailed inventory of radioactive materials stored at the Tuwaitha nuclear research facility and other sites in the country which may have been looted.

Tuwaitha had been sealed by the IAEA, but U.S. forces were reported to have broken some of the seals last month and to have entered the site.

The mission ElBaradei wants to send to Iraq would be separate from the teams who hunted for signs Baghdad renewed its ambitious atomic weapons program, as Washington had alleged, before the United States decided to use military force to disarm Iraq.

"This would be an investigative mission to find out what has happened at the facilities," Fleming said.

WORRIED ABOUT DIRTY BOMBS

While most of the radioactive material found at these sites would be unusable for atomic weapons, the IAEA is concerned some of it could end up in the hands of terrorists who could use it for so-called dirty bombs.

A dirty bomb is made by attaching radioactive material to a conventional explosive like dynamite to disperse it over a wide area. These bombs are aimed more at creating panic than physical damage.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said Sunday he had no information from military or intelligence sources about the looting referred to in the Washington Post's eyewitness report.

"I don't know that there was a special concern that there was nuclear-related material at that particular site," he said.

(Additional reporting by Emma Thomasson in Berlin and Richard Balmforth in Moscow)

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