Skip to comments.U.S. probing nuclear facility Did forces find weapons-grade material or stumble on known stocks?
Posted on 04/12/2003 2:12:37 AM PDT by JohnHuang2
An investigation is underway to determine whether U.S. Marines guarding Iraq's most important nuclear facility have discovered previously undocumented weapons-grade nuclear material.
Initial reports indicated earlier this week that the Marines had located a vast underground complex of tunnels, warehouses and offices that apparently had been missed by U.N. weapons inspectors at the Al-Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Center, 18 miles south of Baghdad.
One report said the tunnels might contain weapons-grade plutonium, while unnamed sources have suggested the U.S. forces came upon known stocks of low-grade uranium and broke U.N. seals meant to control radioactive material.
Lt. Cmdr. Charles Owens, a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command in Qatar, told WorldNetDaily he cannot confirm whether the Marines have discovered anything new.
"What we're going to have with this site at Tuwaitha, or with other finds, is a very cautious approach by the Department of Defense, here at CENTCOM and by people in the theater," he said. "If it is what we think it is, or what people are speculating about, we want to get it right, and it's going to be a long and painful process."
In a statement today, the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna said its inspectors visited the research facility many times between November 2002 and March 2003. The agency said it "examined underground areas at Tuwaitha as part of the inspection process" and is aware of stocks of low-grade nuclear materials.
However, a scout team with the Pentagon's Defense Threat Reduction Agency, which arrived yesterday, said that after a quick inspection, they suspect Al-Tuwaitha harbors plutonium, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported.
"We are here to see what's here," said U.S. Army Maj. Ken Deal. "We will determine when a larger team of scientists will show up. This could take days. We'll know later in the week."
The IAEA said today that a known quantity of nuclear and other radioactive material at Al-Tuwaitha has been stored near the complex in three buildings known as "Location C."
The agency said it was not required by the U.N. Security Council to remove this material after the 1991 Gulf War because it could not be used for nuclear weapons purposes.
However, the IAEA warned that "radiation levels are high and great care must be taken if entering the building."
The agency said its inspectors have been monitoring and inspecting the material at Location C periodically since 1991 and 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 Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the IAEA.
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