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Saturday, August 26, 1995


The disclosure yesterday by UN Ambassador Rolf Ekeus that Iraq had undertaken a crash effort to build a nuclear weapon after its invasion of Kuwait, using bomb-grade uranium fuel from French- and Russian-supplied research reactors, confirms an assessment at the time by the Nuclear Control Institute that Iraq was only weeks to months away from the bomb because of its ready access to this "civilian" material subject only to twice-yearly inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

IAEA Director General Hans Blix's statement yesterday to the Security Council that Iraq's crash program "would have involved a blatant and readily detectable violation" of Iraq's agreement with the IAEA about the fuel's peaceful use is a blatant distortion of the facts, apparently intended to cover up the agency's ineffectual inspections in Iraq and the weakness of its safeguards system overall. At a 1993 press conference in Washington, Blix declared that Iraq "did not touch" the bomb-grade fuel or violate IAEA safeguards on it. Blix refused a written request by the Nuclear Control Institute that he retract the statement.

In fact, Iraq had removed the highly enriched, bomb-grade uranium fuel from the reactors without being detected by the IAEA, had hidden it elsewhere at the Tuwaitha research enter, and even refused to disclose its whereabouts for several months after the end of the Gulf war. After the fuel was finally recovered, UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) experts under the direction of Amb. Ekeus discovered that the ends of some of the fuel rods had been sawed off, leading them to speculate that Iraq had been preparing to remove the bomb-grade fuel for weapons. Iraq told the UNSCOM experts, most of whom were from U.S. weapons laboratories, that the fuel rods had been cut to make them fit into cartons.

In an analysis prepared in 1991 for the Nuclear Control Institute, J. Carson Mark, former head of nuclear weapons design at Los Alamos National Laboratory, estimated that Iraq had enough bomb-grade uranium recoverable from its research reactor fuel---equivalent to 36.3 kilograms (about 80 pounds)---for one gun-type or two implosion-type nuclear weapons. He also estimated it would have taken Iraq "at least a year" to work on design, fabrication and assembly of such a device.

The recently reported disclosure by Gen. Hussein Kamel, Saddam Hussein's son-in-law and nuclear-weapons chief, that Iraq was within three months of testing an atomic bomb when the Gulf war began, indicates that Iraq had prepared the principal components of a bomb that then could be assembled along with the required fissile material. An international team of nuclear experts has advised the IAEA that only one to three weeks are needed to convert bomb-grade uranium metal fuel, such as possessed by Iraq for its research reactors, into weapons components. No Iraqi weapons components have ever been found.

Just prior to the outbreak of the Gulf War, the Nuclear Control Institute asked a State Department official responsible for monitoring the situation whether the U.S. would know if Iraq diverted the fuel for weapons. He responded that on the basis of his "expertise on Third World nations," he remained confident that Iraq would not remove the bomb-grade fuel from its two research reactors. Thus, it appeared that the U.S. Government as well as the IAEA was unaware at the time that Iraq had removed the fuel for a crash program to build the bomb.

In a statement submitted to the Senate Armed Services Committee on November 30, 1990, Paul Leventhal, president of the Nuclear Control Institute, warned of "dangerously ill-informed" official and unofficial estimates that Iraq was at least six months and probably years away from building a bomb. "It is remarkable," Leventhal stated, "that non-proliferation experts inside and outside the government have been so fast to trash President Bush's statements about Iraq's short-term nuclear potential as nothing more than political opportunism." Leventhal warned at the time that the U.S. estimate that Iraq was as close as six months to a bomb was flawed because of the one-to-three-week conversion time for using research-reactor fuel for a weapon.

A survey of 20 nuclear experts and intelligence agencies prepared by the Senate Government Affairs Committee in November 1990, just prior to the outbreak of the Gulf war, found that the Nuclear Control Institute had estimated the shortest lead time to an Iraqi bomb.

Copies of documents cited above are available from the Nuclear Control Institute.


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