The UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), was very upset last week that the US had shipped about 1.8 tons of low-enriched uranium and other radioactive material out of Iraq for disposition in the US. One would think that the IAEA would have appreciated our work in assisting them in the implementation of the provisions of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in this particularly volatile region of the world. But one would be wrong.
The actions, or more appropriately, the inactions of the IAEA regarding Iraq since the end of Gulf War I, betray the agency’s true agenda. Rather than inspect, report, and implement restrictions in accordance with the provisions in the treaty, the agency has in effect become an enabler of rogue nations who are attempting, or who have already succeeded in developing or acquiring special nuclear material and equipment. In other words, the IAEA is simply a reflection of its parent organization, which routinely delays and obfuscates the efforts of the US and the UK in controlling banned substances and delivery systems.
Time after time, the agency has either intentionally or naively bought into the lies and deceptions contrived by nations of the Axis of Evil during IAEA visits and inspections. In most cases, the IAEA avoids confrontation like the plague in order to maintain access to the facilities. If they are booted out, as was the case with North Korea, their impotence is on display for all to see. In other cases, the agency joins in the deception, thereby allowing these rogue states to level the nuclear playing field with the West and Russia. Their reaction to the shipment of nuclear material out of Saddam’s nuclear research center at Al-Tuwaitha is a perfect example of this tactic.
The nuclear research center of Al-Tuwaitha is a 23,000 acre site located about 20 kilometers south-southeast of Baghdad. Most reports of the transfer of the low-enriched uranium out of the country correctly refer to the source location of the uranium as at Tuwaitha Site C. But there is much more material stored at this huge site, and there are more facilities at Tuwaitha that have contributed significantly to the overall capabilities of the research center. These key facilities are, of course, generally ignored in major press reports.
Site C is a relatively small site as compared to the rest of the reservation, but the amount of material stored there is not insignificant. In addition to the nearly two tons of low-enriched uranium secured by the US, Site C was home to an additional 500 tons of yellowcake uranium,* This is a conservative estimate as initially reported by Coalition personnel from the US Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA). Ironically, this initial figure is backed up by, of all organizations, Greenpeace.
Yellowcake is uranium ore that has been milled to produce a pure form of the substance known as Uranium Oxide. Further processes, such as conversion and enrichment, are required to make the yellowcake suitable for use as nuclear fuel in a reactor or for use in a nuclear weapon. Interestingly, a quantity of depleted uranium was also found at Tuwaitha. This implies that some enrichment processes occurred on-site, as depleted uranium is the natural byproduct of the enrichment process.
In addition to the yellowcake, approximately 300 tons of radioisotopes for industrial and medical uses were stored at primarily Site B. These materials, numbering over 1000 radioactive items retrieved from the site, included Cesium-137 and Cobalt-60. Both are extremely radioactive substances that are ideal for use in Radiological Dispersal Devices (RDD), or “dirty bombs.”
There are also three key facilities on the Al-Tuwaitha reservation that are rarely mentioned in media accounts of the transfer. First, there is the French reactor at Site B, better known as Osirak, which was destroyed by the Israelis in 1981 in Operation Opera. The second facility is the Russian built reactor at Site A, destroyed by the US in Gulf War I in 1991. The third facility is a fuel fabrication plant at Site D, also destroyed in 1991. All three facilities have never been rebuilt. All spent fuel or fresh fuel was sent back to the country of origin after Gulf War I.
Now, the IAEA complains that the Department of Energy (DOE) shipped the radioactive materials to the US without UN permission. The agency’s rationale is that there was
some concern about the legality of the U.S. transfer because the nuclear material belonged to Iraq and was under the control and supervision of the IAEA.
The material at Tuwaitha is also characterized as being “under IAEA seal and control.” The article states that only two tons of yellowcake remained at Al-Tuwaitha after Gulf War I. This is simply incorrect, according to my own sources. Either the AP, the IAEA, or both, are misrepresenting the facts.
All of this begs the question: why did the IAEA allow Iraq to retain such massive amounts of nuclear material, when its three nuclear facilities had been destroyed over 12 years ago, and have never been repaired? In fact, the Russian reactor is so hot, it would take years to clean up the facility; it’s a total write off. Iraq had no legitimate reason to have possessed the yellowcake.
And speaking of the storage and accountability of the radioactive material, who maintained those seals, anyway? Let’s see the paperwork.
And why didn’t the UN ship the yellowcake and the low-enriched uranium out of the country 12 years ago? Wouldn’t the UN be interested in denying Saddam the nuclear raw materials, in case he decided to conduct enrichment by calutron at facilities such as Tarmiya and al-Fajar?
It appears the IAEA is not really interested in non-proliferation at all; otherwise this material would have long ago been safeguarded in another country. Thankfully, this overdue evacuation of a dangerous stockpile has finally been started by the DOE, even if much more remains to be done.
Department of Energy officials estimated that the two tons of low-enriched uranium shipped to the US, given further refinement, is enough to produce one nuclear bomb. The number of bombs that could be made from the over 500 tons of yellowcake is frightening, and, had the coalition not attacked Iraq, Saddam’s nuclear bomb stockpile may have become reality. The IAEA would have us believe that the massive amount of yellowcake on-site and the depleted uranium find were just due to the Iraqis pursuing enrichment techniques in order to provide fuel for two destroyed reactors. This is what the UN views as nuclear research for “peaceful purposes.” Simply put, Saddam had retained a nuclear weapons regeneration capability in the same way he did for biological and chemical weapons production.
The IAEA chief, Mohamed El-Baradei is distraught at the secretive nature of the US transfer of nuclear materials out of Iraq. He also continues to opine about the US confronting Tehran about its 18 year effort to conceal its nuclear weapon activities. Most analysts say the mullahs will produce a bomb in short order. El-Baradei said that he didn’t want to take the Iran issue before the UN Security Council because
You are running the risk that the Security Council might not act and therefore the situation would exacerbate. And you run the risk that Iran might opt out of the NPT (nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) and you have another North Korea.
In other words, the chief of the UN nuclear watchdog agency doesn’t want to notify the member nations of the UN Security Council of the Iranian breach of treaty provisions, because the council might then institute economic sanctions, and then Iran might opt out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and then expel UN inspectors, and then some big US city is blown to smithereens -- well, you get the idea.
The UN and its so-called nuclear watchdog agency have proven again that they are not about preventing the proliferation of WMD, but in reality, unwittingly or intentionally, assist rogue nations’ nuclear weapons programs. Their track record over the last decade includes abject failure in North Korea, allowing a sadistic dictator to keep nuclear materials to fuel non-operational reactors, and now they are afraid to truthfully report the critical situation in Iran to the Security Council.
Keep in mind that John Kerry wants to entrust our national security to these same people.
All I have to say is, thank God for the Coalition and George W. Bush.
* Critics of President Bush, who carped about the so-called fabricated intelligence about Iraq seeking uranium from Africa (Niger), would be wise to wait for a full analysis of the source of the materials that were flown to the US, and the materials that remain at Tuwaitha.
Douglas Hanson was the Chief of Staff of the Ministry of Science and Technology for the Coalition Provisional Authority during the Summer of 2003. As then, the Iraqi-controlled ministry today has oversight of Al-Tuwaitha and its 3000 scientists and engineers of the now-disbanded Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission.