Stolen radioactive material in Iraq raises fears
The material went missing from a storage facility near the southern city of Basra belonging to the U.S.
Iraq is searching for “highly dangerous” radioactive material whose theft last year has raised fears among Iraqi officials that it could be used as a weapon if acquired by ISIS.
Baghdad reported the stolen material to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in November but has not requested assistance to recover it, the U.N. nuclear watchdog said on Wednesday.
The material, stored in a protective case the size of a laptop computer, went missing from a storage facility near the southern city of Basra belonging to U.S. oilfield services company Weatherford, an environment ministry document seen by Reuters showed and security, environmental and provincial officials confirmed.
A spokesman for Iraq’s environment ministry said he could not discuss the issue, citing national security concerns.
Weatherford said in a statement that it was not responsible or liable for the theft. “We do not own, operate or control sources or the bunker where the sources are stored,” it said.
The material, which uses gamma rays to test flaws in materials used for oil and gas pipelines in a process called industrial gamma radiography, is owned by Istanbul-based SGS Turkey, according to the document and officials.
Dirty bomb fear
A dirty bomb combines nuclear material with conventional explosives to contaminate an area with radiation, in contrast to a nuclear weapon, which uses nuclear fission to trigger a vastly more powerful blast.
“We are afraid the radioactive element will fall into the hands of Daesh,” said a senior security official with knowledge of the theft, using an Arabic acronym for ISIS.
“They could simply attach it to explosives to make a dirty bomb,” said the official, who works at the interior ministry and spoke on condition of anonymity as he is also not authorised to speak publicly.
There was no indication the material had come into the possession of ISIS, which seized territory in Iraq and Syria in 2014 but does not control areas near Basra.
The security official, based in Baghdad, told Reuters there were no immediate suspects for the theft. But the official said the initial inquiry suggested the perpetrators had specific knowledge of the material and the facility. “No broken locks, no smashed doors and no evidence of forced entry,” he said.