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IAEA Concerned About Security of Nuclear Material in Iraq

Vienna, 11 April 2003 |

Several recent media reports have raised concerns about the security of nuclear material stored near the Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Centre in Iraq. U.S. military forces recently entered the Tuwaitha site. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) asked the United States to ensure that the material located there is properly protected and that access to the site is restricted. The IAEA has subsequently received such assurances.

"I have written yesterday to the United States Government asking that it ensure the security and safety of all the nuclear material there, which has been under IAEA seal since 1991. I indicated that until our inspectors return to Iraq, the U.S. has responsibility for maintaining security at this important storage facility," said Dr Mohamed ElBaradei, Director General of the IAEA.

Most of the nuclear and other radioactive material at Iraq's Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Centre is stored near the main complex in the three buildings which are known as "Location C." It contains nuclear material, covered by Iraq's Safeguards Agreement under the NPT, that the Agency was not required by the U.N. Security Council to remove after the Gulf war in 1991 because it could not be used directly for nuclear weapons purposes. A separate building at Location C is used to store radioisotope sources. Radiation levels are high and great care must be taken if entering the building.

IAEA inspectors have been monitoring and inspecting the material at Location C periodically since 1991. The IAEA applied seals on the drums containing the nuclear materials and the building itself. "As soon as circumstances permit, the IAEA should return to verify that there has been no diversion of this material," said Dr. ElBaradei.

During weapons inspections in Iraq from November 2002 until March 2003, IAEA inspectors visited the Tuwaitha research center many times. Inspectors have examined underground areas at Tuwaitha as part of the inspection process, including the basements of buildings as well as underground ruins and the surroundings of the destroyed research reactors. In some buildings, the IAEA has documented higher than normal radiation levels, attributable to Iraq's past nuclear weapons programme and the presence of radioisotopes.