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Int. Inspection of Iraqi Nuclear Facility to Begin

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 year.

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 20.

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.

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