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To: J_F_Shepard who wrote (644806)10/14/2004 2:53:21 PM
From: DuckTapeSunroof  Read Replies (1) of 769658
Nuclear equipment vanishes in Iraq

15:38 12 October 04 news service

Nuclear equipment - and in some cases whole buildings - have vanished in Iraq, the UN’s nuclear watchdog is warning, amid fears that the material could be used to make nuclear weapons.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has raised concerns “about the widespread and apparently systematic dismantlement that has taken place at sites previously relevant to Iraq’s nuclear programme”, since coalition forces wrested power from Saddam Hussein.

Satellite imagery has revealed the disappearance of entire buildings which housed high-precision, "dual use" equipment, as well as the removal of materials from open storage areas, warned Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the IAEA, in a letter to the UN Security Council on 1 October. Dual use equipment has commercial uses but could also be harnessed to manufacture nuclear arms.

Their disappearance, along with materials such as high-strength aluminium “may be of [nuclear] proliferation significance”, says ElBaradei.

Eye in the sky

The IAEA has been required to give six-monthly reports verifying Iraq’s nuclear capabilities since April 1996. However, since the beginning of the war in March 2003 and despite the overturning of Hussein’s regime, IAEA inspectors have not been able to return to Iraq. As a result, they have been unable to resume on-site monitoring. Instead, they have been tracking locations of interest through commercial satellite imagery.

Iraq is obliged to inform the IAEA of any changes at these sites, but the agency says it has “received no such notifications” from any nation involved.

"There’s clearly a problem because the IAEA has flagged it up,” says John Eldridge, editor of Jane’s Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Defence. A “sinister aspect” to the disappearance of dual use equipment is that there is a terrorist market for them, he says.

“Even if it isn't going somewhere directly it may well end up as somebody’s bargaining chip. There’s a huge amount of collusion between terrorist organisations,” he says.

However, there could be more innocent explanations, Eldridge told New Scientist. People could be simply stripping buildings for their materials, or there could be some “accounting mismatches”, since carrying out detailed analyses from satellite imagery is a difficult task.

Electron-beam welders

ElBaradei’s letter says the missing dual use equipment includes “flow forming, milling and turning machines, electron-beam welders and coordinate measurement machines”.

These are used commercially for high quality work, such as welding for the space or aviation industry, says Eldridge. But they could also be employed in the precision work needed to make casings for nuclear weapons - the shape of a nuclear bomb casing is key to ensuring its detonation.

Nuclear weapons follow two classical designs. One consists of two hemispheres of “fissile”, or nuclear, material which are forced together to create an explosive chain reaction. The second involves driving fissile rods into other material to start the reaction.

Great precision is needed in welding casings together, particularly for weapons based on the hemispherical design, Eldridge notes.

Shaoni Bhattacharya

© Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
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