UNITED NATIONS – At least 22 pounds of uranium (search) compounds could be missing from a looted Iraqi plant, U.N. nuclear inspectors said in a report obtained Tuesday. But they said the material couldn't be used to make nuclear weapons.
The report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (search) confirmed that the vast majority of uranium feared stolen from Iraq's largest nuclear research facility at Tuwaitha after Iraqi troops fled on the eve of the U.S.-led war had been recovered, though it gave no figure.
The Tuwaitha facility was thought to contain hundreds of tons of natural uranium and nearly two tons of low-enriched uranium, which could be further processed for arms use.
The report from the International Atomic Energy Agency said the small quantity of missing uranium compounds could have been dispersed as dust or particles when looters emptied approximately 200 containers at Iraq's largest nuclear facility, which has not been operational for more than a decade.
"The quantity and type of uranium compounds dispersed are not sensitive from a proliferation point of view," said the report by IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei (search) to the U.N. Security Council which was obtained by The Associated Press.
The nuclear material at the Tuwaitha facility, 12 miles south of Baghdad, had been monitored and inspected by the IAEA until the U.S.-led war.
But the facility was left unguarded after Iraqi troops fled the area on the eve of the war. Looters from surrounding villages stripped it of uranium storage barrels they later used to hold drinking water.
The U.S.-led interim administration in Iraq allowed the IAEA to send a team last month to secure the uranium.
The assessment that almost all the uranium is accounted for is likely to put to rest concerns that looters specifically went after uranium to possibly use for nuclear weapons, or that it fell into the wrong hands.
Even so, ElBaradei said, he will ask the U.S.-led Provisional Authority "to make every effort to recover this dispersed material" and return it to the storage facilities.
ElBaradei also said he will request authority "to ensure the physical protection and security of the entire nuclear material inventory in Iraq."
U.N. nuclear inspectors were not allowed to assess the situation at another storage site in Tuwaitha for radioactive sources. That site too was reportedly looted by Iraqis living nearby.
U.N. officials said the U.S. military has provided no information on the status of those potentially deadly sources.
Under the strict guidelines set out by the Pentagon, the IAEA team was only allowed to check on uranium it had stored.