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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Washington File

05 June 2003

International Inspection of Iraqi Nuclear Facility Set To Begin

(U.S. military says core of Tuwaitha has been secure since April 7)
By Jacquelyn S. Porth
Washington File Security Affairs Writer
Washington -- A senior U.S. defense official says that the core of the
Iraqi nuclear facility at Tuwaitha has been secure since April 7, and
U.S. military forces will now support an International Atomic Energy
Agency (IAEA) team that will begin inspections there on June 7.
Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon June 5, the official said the
IAEA inspection to inventory nuclear materials and assess conditions
at the Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Center would likely take several
weeks to complete. The seven-member IAEA team is already in Kuwait and
on June 6 will be flown to Iraq and given briefings and protective
gear before beginning work.
The Iraqi facility, which was last inspected by the IAEA in December
2002, is located about 20 kilometers southeast of the Iraqi capital of
Baghdad. Iraqi security for the nuclear facility ended in March of
this year, leaving the facility unguarded until the U.S. Marines
arrived on April 7.
A U.S. military official, who participated in the June 5 Pentagon
briefing via video-teleconference from Baghdad, said the Marines found
the property in disarray when they arrived. He said the front gate of
Tuwaitha was open, a wall in the rear of the facility had been
breached and there were no seals on the exterior doors of any of the
three buildings.
Since U.S. forces took control of the facility, the official said,
they have taken steps "to mitigate the risks" to themselves, local
civilians and the environment. He also said an Iraqi-American team was
organized in May to visit two local villages and repurchase materials
that may have been removed from Tuwaitha. For the cost of $3.00 per
item, the team was able to buy back 100 barrels of various sizes and
in varying conditions as well as five radioactive sources, including a
moisture density gauge for measuring cesium.
The U.S. officials, who briefed reporters on condition that they not
be identified, discussed the pending IAEA mission and the support the
military will be providing to the team as well as some past history of
the nuclear facility. They indicated that the U.S. military will
supply food, water, shelter, security and medical care for the IAEA
team as well as transportation that could include forklifts.
The IAEA inspection will take place "under the protection and auspices
of coalition forces," one of the officials said, and those forces
"will accompany the IAEA at all times." In addition, the IAEA will
receive technical assistance from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency
(DTRA) and the U.S. Army Nuclear Chemical Agency.
After the IAEA completes its inventory it will repackage any
nuclear-related materials -- that could include low-enriched or
depleted uranium and sources of non-fissile radioisotopes -- and
reseal safeguard rooms, buildings and containers, with coalition
assistance as needed.
The IAEA inspection is not taking place according to authority
provided by United Nations Security Council resolutions, the official
noted, "and does not set any precedent for future IAEA involvement in
Iraq." It is occurring under the nuclear safeguards agreement Iraq
signed previously with the IAEA. Iraq signed the Nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1968 and ratified it the following
The briefers were questioned closely about the security gap at
Tuwaitha that occurred during late March and early April and the
possibility that nuclear material might have been transported outside
Iraq. While giving a chronology of activity that occurred at Tuwaitha,
the official speaking from Baghdad said Iraqi Army forces deserted
their post around March 10 and civilian guards departed around March
The Marines arrived April 7 and turned the facility over to U.S. Army
control on April 20, he said, adding that there has been no
unauthorized activity at any of the three core buildings at Tuwaitha.
One of the problems with securing the site fully is its vast size. The
entire property measures around 9,200 hectares. U.S. Army patrols
apprehend any intruders and put them to work temporarily, the official
said, and they are put in confinement for repeated intrusions. U.S.
forces have also recruited and begun training a 100-person Iraqi guard
force that will be responsible eventually for facility security.
U.S. military representatives first began meeting with Iraqi Atomic
Energy Commission (IAEC) scientists who had worked at Tuwaitha on
April 18 "to mitigate any radiological hazards" that they could, the
official said. A joint U.S.-Iraqi team has already repaired and sealed
damaged buildings.
A DTRA technical assessment and inventory was completed on May 20 and
determined that the amount of materials found there "exceeds the
quantity of materials that we had assessed would be present." But the
official indicated that the IAEA review will be an official inventory.
While U.S. personnel found a small amount of uranium on the ground
outside one of the on-site buildings early on, the official said it
was soon returned and secured. "And so we have no evidence that
anything has been stolen at this point," he added.
Representatives of the Coalition Provisional Authority have been
meeting weekly with IAEC experts, the official said, and have come up
with a plan to make improvements at Tuwaitha. The IAEC, Iraqi Health
Ministry representatives and members of the U.S. Center for Health
Promotion and Preventative Medicine will soon assess possible health
risks to soldiers who have been working at the facility as well as
Iraqi civilians within five kilometers of Tuwaitha.
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International
Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

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