Missing Iraqi Nuclear Material Said to Pose Little Risk

Nuclear material taken from Iraq’s Mosul University is unlikely to end up in a weapon or pose risks to human health, the United Nations atomic monitor said.

The International Atomic Energy Agency is seeking more details from Iraqi authorities, spokeswoman Gill Tudor said in a written statement. The Reuters news agency reported yesterday that about 40 kilograms (88 pounds) of uranium compounds were looted by Islamist insurgents who overran the city last month.

“We believe the material involved is low-grade and would not present a significant safety, security or nuclear proliferation risk,” Tudor said. “Nevertheless, any loss of regulatory control over nuclear and other radioactive materials is a cause for concern.”

Eleven years after the U.S. and its allies went to war in Iraq over perceived threats from weapons of mass destruction, an al-Qaeda offshoot has seized northern swaths of the country. The city of Mosul, 400 kilometers (248 miles) northwest of Baghdad, fell to insurgents of the Islamic State group on June 10. They have since announced a caliphate on territory they control in both Iraq and over the border in Syria.

It’s unlikely that the uranium that’s gone missing in Mosul poses any immediate threat, Robert Kelley, former IAEA director of nuclear inspections in Iraq, said in a phone interview.

Chunk of Metal

“If it’s a solid chunk of metal in a shipping container, the worst damage you could do is drop it on your foot,” according to Kelley, who conducted at least five different inspections in Mosul. “It isn’t a very dangerous material.”

The U.S. Defense Department isn’t concerned about the uranium, which probably came from a university, said Army Colonel Steve Warren, who briefed reporters at the Pentagon today.

“We do not believe there is weaponized or enriched uranium in Iraq,” Warren said. The U.S. worked to remove all enriched uranium from the country in 2004, he said.

Islamic State was previously known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, and is also referred to sometimes as ISIS.