Nuclear capabilities of Iraq

The IAEA plan of action

The original and prime concern of Agency inspection efforts centered on the fate of the highly enriched uranium reactor fuel which was known to be in Iraq. This information was based on twice yearly inspections of facilities at the Al Tuwaitha nuclear research centre which had been declared under the NPT agreement.

Stocks of fresh unirradiated fuel used for the Soviet IRT 5000 reactor were of vital concern. Efforts began to locate 68 fuel assemblies of 80% enrichment with a U235 content of 10.97 kilograms and 10 assemblies of 36% enrichment with a U235 content of 1.27 kilograms. In addition, there was a set of fresh fuel plates for the French Tammuz-2 reactor with an enrichment of 93% and a total U235 content of 372 grams.

Other highly enriched material included 35.58 kilograms of U235 which had been irradiated but could not be readily used in weapons production. However, it was enriched to 93% which gave it high strategic value.

The first IAEA inspection team found that the irradiated material was held at two storage locations: a fuel pond, which contained the reactor core and fuel storage racks; and an emergency storage where fueld from the Tammuz-2 reactor core and associated pond had been transferred during the Gulf War. This emergency storage, designated "location B", consisted of pits in a farmland area a few miles from the Al Tuwaitha Nuclear Centre.

The irradiated fuel at location B was stored under normally unacceptable conditions and presented severe preparation problems for safe transport. Radiation levels were unusual and because of the lack of water treatment and suitable containers, corrosion problems could not be avoided.

In addition, the pond at the IRT 5000 reactor site was filled with debris when the reactor was destroyed in the bombing. This required careful work to clear the pond to enable fuel still there to be verified without contaminating the work area. This work was completed and all the fresh fueld for the IRT 5000 reactor was removed from Iraq in November 1991. Removal of the strategically most significant material marked an important stage in the implementation of the IAEA plan.

Plutonium and other nuclear material

A total of some 6 grams of clandestinely produced plutonium was eventually declared by Iraq and was removed during the fifth IAEA inspection. Iraq declared some 400 tons of additional material including natural uranium in many forms ranging from yellowcake to processed chemicals. Much of the material was hidden; it had been moved to secret locations or buried in desert areas. Therefore, it took time to collect the material at a site where it could be identified and verified. This material is now under Agency seals.

Negotiations continue with French and British companies to remove the remaining irradiated fuel under IAEA seals still in Iraq.

Identification and Inspection of facilities

Prior to the first inspection, the only known nuclear facilities in Iraq were those at the Al Tuwaitha nuclear centre, where nuclear material was being safeguarded. No other facilities were declared in the initial Iraqi statements. As a result of the second inspection, the Tarmiya industrial centre was revealed as a site for the electromagnetic isotope separation process (EMIS), a facility capable of producing nuclear-weapons-usable material. This was a large site still in the installation stage, although some production units had begun operation and a small quantity of low enriched uranium had been produced.

Iraq declared to the first team that the site was a plant for manufacturing transformers, an implausible claim. When its true nature was established, later inspections showed that extensive deception had taken place, including laying fresh concrete to hide evidence of the machinery that had been installed and walls which had been painted to hide the presence of uranium. In fact, Iraqi authorities eventually admitted that a facility at Ash Sharkat, which had initially been declared as a non-nuclear plastic coating plant, had been intended as a duplicate of the plant at Tarmiya.

In addition to its EMIS and centrifuge programmes, Iraq conducted extensive deception to hide the true nature of the chemical plant at Mosul which produced the uranium oxide and tetrachloride material used as feed material in the enrichment programme.


The IAEA plan gave priority to identifying research, development, support and manufacturing facilities and materials used in irradiated fuel reprocessing and isotopic enrichment. Following each Agency inspection, the extent of facilities and equipment revealed has been reported.

The major discovery has been that of the electromagnetic isotope separation (EMIS) programme and its extent. Iraq took extensive measures to hide the existence of the process. Prior to the first inspection, most of the equipment for the EMIS process had been buried, excavated and moved between various sites by convoy to hide it from detection.

The second inspection team located the equipment, but was refused access a number of times to the military camps in which it was housed. Photographs were taken as a convoy attempted to escape by a back entrance while inspectors were denied access at the front gate. In this incident, warning shots were fired by Iraqi personnel.

The EMIS equipment has now been largely accounted for. Remaining parts have been collected at one site and destruction has proceeded steadily during recent inspections. Destruction activities have included cutting the magnet pole pieces, the vacuum chambers and associated equipment with special plasma torches.

Equipment for a centrifuge programme has also been destroyed or removed. Particularly, some rotor and bearing parts have been removed for Agency analysis to determine the extent and the nature of the programme, while most of the centrifuge components have been crushed. Special machines used to produce the centrifuges have been destroyed or rendered useless by cutting off key parts.

The Al Tuwaitha nuclear centre was extensively equipped with "hot cells" for dealing with radioactive material, although many were severely damaged during bombing. However, concern remained about possible reconstruction and future use of the undamaged cells. Therefore, during the seventh inspection, these cells were rendered harmless by cutting off the manipulator arms and control wires. Associated glove boxes were rendered useless by pouring cement into them. As a long-term measure, epoxy resin was used along with cement to render harmless the mixers-settlers.

The seventh and eighth inspections revealed special equipment essential to the nuclear weaponization programme for warhead development and assembly as distinct from nuclear material production. Two special video cameras ("streak cameras") were removed from Iraq and other equipment has been sealed pending decisions on removal, destruction or monitoring.

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