Large amounts of nuclear-related equipment, some of it contaminated, and a small number of missile engines have been smuggled out of Iraq for recycling in European scrap yards, according to the head of the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog and other U.N. diplomats.
Mohammed ElBaradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, warned the U.N. Security Council in a letter that U.N. satellite photos have detected “the extensive removal of equipment and, in some instances, removal of entire buildings” from sites that had been subject to U.N. monitoring before the U.S.-led war against Iraq.
ElBaradei said an IAEA investigation “indicates that large quantities of scrap, some of it contaminated, have been transferred out of Iraq, from sites monitored by the IAEA.” He said that he has informed the United States about the discovery and is awaiting “clarification.”
After the 1991 Persian Gulf War, U.N. inspectors discovered, inventoried and destroyed most of the equipment used in Iraq’s nuclear weapons program. But they left large amounts of nuclear equipment and facilities in Iraq intact and “under seal,” including debris from the Osirak reactor that was bombed by Israel in 1981. That debris and the buildings are radioactively contaminated.
The U.N. nuclear agency has found no evidence yet that the exported materials are being sold to arms dealers or to countries suspected of developing nuclear weapons. But ElBaradei voiced concern that the loss of the materials could pose a proliferation threat and could complicate efforts to reach a conclusive assessment of the history of Iraq’s nuclear program.
I’m not actually sure what to make of this. Presumably, this doesn’t rise to the level of a smoking gun, or the Administration would be making a bigger deal of this. And one would hope that it wouldn’t be buried on page A23.