Iraqi nuclear site tampered, says watchdog

By ANWAR IQBAL   |   April 11, 2003 at 4:38 PM
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WASHINGTON, April 11 (UPI) -- Seals at an Iraqi nuclear material research center have been broken, a Washington-based nuclear watchdog reported Friday.

The Tuwaitha research center was Iraq's primary civilian nuclear site prior to the 1991 Gulf War.

"Specialized seals have been broken on a stock of nuclear material stored at the Tuwaitha nuclear research center at a site called 'Location C,'" said the Institute for Science and International Security, which monitors nuclear proliferation around the world.

The seals are meant to ensure the detection of any tampering with the center's nuclear material.

"A key issue is what happened in the days between the abandonment of the site by the Iraqi guards and the arrival of U.S. troops and the imposition of adequate security," asks a report authored jointly by David Albright and Corey Hinderstein of ISIS.

Some of this material is highly radioactive and poses a health and safety risk to anyone mishandling it. All the material could be useful for terrorists or other nations intent on making nuclear weapons or radiological dispersal devices, the report said.

Tuwaitha was the location of numerous secret, nuclear weapons-related activities that International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors discovered when they conducted Security Council-mandated inspections in Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War.

One result of those inspections was to remove Iraq's stock of weapons-usable material, such as highly enriched uranium and separated plutonium. Some material that could not be used directly for nuclear weapons, including natural uranium and low-enriched uranium, was left in Iraq but placed under IAEA seals and near-constant monitoring.

This material was still monitored by the IAEA during the absence of U.N. Security Council-mandated inspections in Iraq between 1998 and 2002. The IAEA used the legal authority of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty to gain access to this material at least once a year.

The ISIS suggested an IAEA team should immediately go to Location C and ensure that all the nuclear material is accounted for and is properly safeguarded.

The report says that there is a precedent for the IAEA to conduct inspections during war. In June 1999, the IAEA conducted its first wartime inspections at the Vinca nuclear site in the former Yugoslavia.

"Just as in the Yugoslavia case, the IAEA has a responsibility to inspect the nuclear material under safeguards in Iraq. The United States and Britain, as the occupying parties of Iraq, should allow the IAEA immediate access to Tuwaitha," said ISIS director David Albright.

He urged the Bush administration to allow individuals with a firm technical understanding of weapons of mass destruction to visit Iraq to wok with the U.S. military.

"The military needs help in its efforts to (deal with the) WMD," he added.

The military, he said, has placed an appropriate priority on locating and containing any secret WMD activity in Iraq, but they are not prepared to conduct safeguards activities.

The IAEA, he said, has the experience and the responsibility to carry out the task of determining the status of the nuclear material at Tuwaitha, even during times of conflict.

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