The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has told the UN Security Council that some declared Iraqi nuclear facilities may not be sufficiently secured and that Iraqi nuclear material may have leaked out of the country.
IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei wrote in an April 11 letter to the Security Council that the IAEA “is concerned” that commercial satellite imagery has revealed “extensive removal of equipment and, in some instances…entire buildings” from Iraqi nuclear sites since last year’s U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. ElBaradei also said that the IAEA has discovered that large quantities of scrap metal from Iraqi nuclear facilities, including some contaminated with nuclear material, have been discovered in other countries.
ElBaradei’s letter expressed concern about “the proliferation risk associated with dual-use material and equipment disappearing to unknown destinations.” The IAEA did not name any specific countries, but the Associated Press reported in January that a Dutch company believed a small amount of lightly refined uranium ore found in a shipment of scrap metal it received originated in Iraq.
A Department of State official told Arms Control Today April 22 that the United States has notified the IAEA that it is “looking into this matter.”
The IAEA was tasked with monitoring Iraq’s nuclear-related sites under Security Council resolutions adopted after the 1991 Persian Gulf War. The agency believes these resolutions “remain valid,” the letter states. The IAEA also monitors countries’ nuclear facilities to ensure governments comply with the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
IAEA inspectors have not been able to carry out their mission since leaving Iraq just before the March 2003 invasion, although a team of inspectors did visit the country in June of last year to secure nuclear material stored at the Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Center following reports of looting. (See ACT, July/August 2003.)
In a March interview with Arms Control Today, David Kay, former head advisor to postwar U.S.-led efforts to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, said that prewar planning for securing Iraq’s declared nuclear sites was “practically useless,” citing the fact that the Tuwaitha facility “was essentially left unprotected.”
“There was vast looting of radioactivity material and sources,” Kay stated during the interview.