Nuclear security lapse in Iraq

10 July 2014

Iraq has lost control of low-grade nuclear materials owned by a university in the city of Mosul, which has been taken over by insurgents. The country recently acceded to an international convention that obliges other nations to come to its aid.

Around 40 kilograms of uranium compounds used in scientific research were kept at Mosul University, according to Reuters, which said it had obtained a copy of the Iraqi notification of the situation to the United Nations which was filed yesterday. Since 9 June Mosul has been under the control of militants, a situation which the Iraqi ambassador to the UN, Mohamed Ali Alhakim, described as a seizure of the materials, according to Reuters.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said today it was aware of Iraq's notification to the UN and was seeking further details. Spokesperson Gill Tudor said, "On the basis of initial information we believe the material involved is low-grade and would not present a significant safety, security or proliferation risk. Nevertheless, any loss of regulatory control over nuclear and other radioactive materials is a cause for concern."

International help

As recently as 7 July Iraq officially acceded to the Convention on Physical Protection of Nuclear Material. This agreement counts 150 nations and requires them to implement certain security measures, and afford each other certain assistance to maintain adequate security for a wide range of grades of uranium and plutonium that may be stored on their territory.

Article 5 of the convention stipulates that parties will use the IAEA to make each other aware if nuclear materials are removed without authority, or there is a credible threat that this has happened. It goes on to say that other states will "provide cooperation and assistance to the maximum feasible extent in the recovery and protection of such materials to any state that requests."

Other parts of the convention cover security during transport of nuclear materials as well as cooperation in the prosecution of alleged offenders that may have fled to other countries.

The security measures required for uranium and plutonium depend on the grade and the quantities stored, but include measures such as physical barriers, limited points of entry, controlled or restricted access, and surveillance by guards in contact with appropriate response forces.
Researched and written
by World Nuclear News