Tags: U.N. | Nuclear | Inspectors | Iraq | Weekend

U.N. Nuclear Inspectors to Iraq at Weekend

Monday, 02 June 2003 12:00 AM

After reports of looting and destruction at Iraq's chief nuclear storage site, Director General Mohamed ElBaradei of the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog agency expressed concern last month "about the potential radiological safety and security implications of nuclear and radiological materials that may no longer be under control." The agency said the coalition should allow "IAEA experts to return to Iraq to address a possible radiological emergency."

In a related development, chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix said Monday in a report to the Security Council he could have his inspectors back in their Baghdad headquarters in two weeks and two weeks later resume inspections for weapons of mass destruction. However, the coalition is unlikely to test his readiness, at least just yet.

The IAEA official told United Press International the inspectors were going in June 6 or the day after but were only allowed by the "occupying powers," the coalition, to visit the one site, one of several agency inspectors have been visiting regularly, "usually in December or January" under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

She pointed out the upcoming visit was restricted to the single site and was under the NPT and not the mandate of the U.N. Security Council.

Both inspectors of the IAEA and the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission have been cooling their heels since evacuating Iraq on the eve of the mid-March military campaign by the coalition.

Last month's Iraq resolution lifting sanctions, allowing the sale of oil and extending the oil for food humanitarian program, only says the council will "revisit" the role of the two inspection agencies, but not when. This is the first either agency has been allowed into Iraq, and only briefly.

In a terse announcement just over a week ago, the IAEA said it was planning to send a team to the Iraqi nuclear research center "to verify the nuclear material under safeguards pursuant to Iraq's NPT safeguards agreement. The dispatch of such a mission has been agreed to with the U.S. government. The mission will be limited to verifying Iraq's safeguards obligations."

However, the IAEA official told UPI the team would "capture and repackage, if necessary," any errant radiological material.

The nuclear watchdog cited media accounts of radioactive material "emptied on the ground from containers then (the drums) taken for domestic use, and radioactive sources being stolen and removed from their shielding."

As hostilities in Iraq were coming to an end, ElBaradei wrote April 10 to the U.S. government on the need to secure the nuclear material stored at Tuwaitha and under IAEA seal since 1991. The IAEA also provided the United States with information about the nuclear material, radioactive sources and nuclear waste in Iraq, the agency said.

"The IAEA received oral assurances that physical protection of the site was in place; but following reports of looting there and at other sites," ElBaradei wrote again on April 29, emphasizing the responsibility of the coalition forces to maintain appropriate protection over the materials in question.

The agency said the radioactive material of concern includes natural and low-enriched uranium, radioactive sources such as Cobalt 60 and Cesium 137, and nuclear waste.

In the regularly scheduled Blix report to the council, he said that despite the looting of the headquarters, damage was not as bad as originally believed.

"UNMOVIC is better prepared to perform its mandated mission at the present time than when the inspectors first arrived in Iraq in November 2002," Blix said, referring to the current inspectors as opposed to their predecessors who pulled out in December 1998 on the eve of an allied bombing campaign.

"All of UNMOVIC's 34 local employees survived the war. On their own initiative, several of them worked with coalition forces to secure (a biological analytical laboratory) and its equipment -- even to the point of driving with coalition forces to attempt to recover stolen U.N. vehicles. They recovered two."

He said 62 vehicles, "several computers, printers and monitors and a lot of furniture" were taken by looters, who failed to gain entry to 10 rooms on the third floor of headquarters in the Canal Hotel.

"These included the chemical and biological laboratories, the communications rooms and workshops, the IAEA room, the medical facility and several administrative offices," the report added.

"In the period during which it performed inspection and monitoring in Iraq, UNMOVIC did not find evidence of the continuation or resumption of programs of weapons of mass destruction or significant quantities of proscribed items," he said. "However, the long list of proscribed items unaccounted for and as such resulting in unresolved disarmament issues was neither shortened by the inspections, or by Iraqi declarations and documentation."

Blix said "little progress" was made by Iraqi attempts to "provide explanations and propose methods of inquiry into issues such as the production and destruction of anthrax, VX (a deadly nerve agent) and long-range missiles."

Only 14 of 54 scientists consented to requests to be interviewed without government "minders" at hand or tape recordings made of the sessions, his report said.

As for verification of mobile laboratories, he said Iraq denied their existence and provided "pictures of legitimate vehicles, which, they suggested, could have led to the information," said Blix. "None of the vehicles in these pictures look like the trucks recently described and depicted by the relevant units of the coalition."

Copyright 2003 by United Press International.

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After reports of looting and destruction at Iraq's chief nuclear storage site, Director General Mohamed ElBaradei of the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog agency expressed concern last month "about the potential radiological safety and security implications of nuclear and...
Monday, 02 June 2003 12:00 AM
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