According to Reuters, Iraqi rebels have stolen 40kg of uranium compounds that were being used for scientific research at a university in the city of Mosul.
Reuters has seen a letter written by Iraq’s envoy to the UN, Ambassador Mohamed Ali Alhakim, in which he explained that “these nuclear materials, despite the limited amounts mentioned, can enable terrorist groups, with the availability of the required expertise, to use it separately or in combination with other materials in its terrorist acts.”
Fortunately, the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency has identified the material as “low grade” and, according to the BBC, US officials believe that the cache is not enriched uranium. Gill Tudor, from the IAEA, explained that it “would not present a significant safety, security or nuclear proliferation risk” but added that that “any loss of regulatory control over nuclear and other radioactive materials is a cause for concern.” If those assurances are accurate it makes it difficult — though not impossible — for the materials to be used for the construction of weapons.
It emerged recently that rebels are in control of a disused chemical weapons factory — the Muthanna complex, north-west of the capital Baghdad — in which rockets filled with sarin and other deadly nerve agents are housed. Reports claim that these munition stocks are degraded, but such compounds can still be used to create dirty weapons. [Reuters, BBC]