FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Paul Leventhal,
Friday, December 17, 1999 Steven Dolley 202-822-8444
NEW INSPECTION PLAN FOR IRAQ LEAVES LOOPHOLES
BIG ENOUGH TO DRIVE AN ATOM BOMB THROUGH
Washington---The new plan for resuming weapons inspections in Iraq, adopted today by the U.N. Security Council, fails to reform weak nuclear inspections and "leaves loopholes big enough to drive an atom bomb through, the Nuclear Control Institute (NCI) warned today.
Under the new regime, nuclear inspections will still be run by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which since 1991 has shown itself far too willing to trust and accommodate what it calls its Iraqi counterparts," said NCI President Paul Leventhal. "IAEA inspections should be under the authority and direction of the new UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), the successor agency to the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM). UNSCOMs inspection reports on chemical, biological and missile weaponry were unflinching and specified unresolved issues in clear terms. The IAEA reports on nuclear inspections tended to give the benefit of the doubt to vague and incomplete Iraqi declarations. This bad system is now being perpetuated.
An immediate concern is that Iraq was permitted by the IAEA to retain enough low-enriched uranium for at least two nuclear bombs if Iraq were able to run the uranium through a small, clandestine enrichment plant to bring the uranium up to weapons grade. The re-enrichment could be accomplished within one year in a plant hundreds of times smaller than a commercial enrichment plant and needing only enough electricity to run a small office building. This uranium has not been examined by inspectors in over a year. The existence of a small Iraqi enrichment plant cannot be ruled out and is a matter of continuing concern.
NCI has learned that in late 1991 or early 1992, IAEA officials decided to allow Iraq to retain 1.7 metric tons of uranium enriched to 2.6% U-235 (low-enriched uranium, or LEU), as well as some 13 tons of natural uranium stocks. The Gulf War cease-fire resolution required that Iraq surrender all of its nuclear-weapons-usable material and not acquire or develop such material in the future. Iraqs bomb-grade, highly enriched uranium (HEU), which it had diverted from a research reactor for conversion into a nuclear bomb at the start of Operation Desert Storm, was removed by airlift by February 1994, along with other uranium with enrichments as low as 10%.
According to officials involved in these decisions at the time, the IAEA decided to permit Iraq to keep its LEU and natural uranium stocks for possible future use in a peaceful nuclear program, said Steven Dolley, NCI Research Director. Agency officials also concluded that the cost of removing these materials from Iraq would be prohibitive, even though Iraq was required under U.N. mandate to pay all such expenses.
The deadline for annual, routine inspection of this material, required under Iraqs pre-Gulf War safeguards agreement with the IAEA, expired this week. Iraq has refused to issue visas to the IAEA inspectors, thereby blocking the inspection---a violation of its safeguards obligation under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Shortly after the Gulf War, IAEA and Bush Administration officials downplayed the risk of Iraq's LEU and natural uranium stocks, assuming that Iraq would not be technically capable of enriching the uranium to weapons-grade. However, Iraqs development of high-speed centrifuges had advanced to the point that the deployment of a small, well-concealed centrifuge enrichment facility cannot be ruled out.
Dr. Edwin Lyman, NCI Scientific Director, calculated that Iraqs low-enriched uranium stocks would be sufficient to produce over 45 kilograms of bomb-grade HEU, enough for two nuclear weapons. Only about 260 small centrifuges would be required to enrich this material to bomb-grade in one year. Iraqs known stocks of natural uranium could be converted into an additional 70 kilograms of bomb-grade HEU over a somewhat greater length of time. Some 25 kilograms of HEU is officially considered the amount needed for a bomb, although nuclear weapons can be built with less.
If Iraq continues to bar inspectors following today's Security Council action, there may be no way of knowing whether all the enriched and natural uranium, which was left under seal, is still there, said Leventhal. If Iraq doesnt let the IAEA in, it would be prudent to assume the Iraqis have a reason for keeping the inspectors out---such as the material has been diverted to weapons use. In any event, there is no excuse for the IAEA not to insist on an inspection, or for the Security Council not to take up the matter urgently if the Agency is rebuffed.
More information on Iraqs nuclear-weapons program is available on NCIs website at http://www.nci.org/sadb.htm