October 28, 2009
Iraq To Go Nuclear With Plans For New Reactor Program
Baghdad approached the International Atomic Energy Agency for approval to rebuild facility destroyed by U.S. and U.K. planes.
Iraq has started lobbying for approval to again become a nuclear player, almost 19 years after British and American war planes destroyed Saddam Hussein’s last two reactors, the Guardian has learned.
The Iraqi government has approached the French nuclear industry about rebuilding at least one of the reactors that was bombed at the start of the first Gulf war. The government has also contacted the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and United Nations to seek ways around resolutions that ban Iraq’s re-entry into the nuclear field.
Iraq says it envisages that a reactor would be used initially for research purposes. “We are co-operating with the IAEA and expanding and defining areas of research where we can implement nuclear technology for peaceful means,” the science and technology minister, Raid Fahmi, told the Guardian newspaper’s correspondent in Baghdad.
“After the dissolution [of the regime] we did not have an industry, but we have become more and more conscious of the need for nuclear technology. This was raised several months ago with the relevant bodies.”
Iraq’s renewed dalliance with the science that was partly responsible for its international isolation, and two devastating invasions, comes at an extremely sensitive juncture in regional politics, with its near neighbor Iran accused of diverting its growing nuclear capacity to develop a weapons program.
Fahmi insists Iraq has “only peaceful applications” in mind for a nuclear program, “including the health sector, agriculture … and water treatment”.
The Iraqi government cannot meet the needs of residents served by antiquated electricity networks and water distribution that need an overhaul. Most other service sectors, including science and technology, are also unable to satisfy need, making relatively cheap and efficient nuclear energy an attractive alternative.
However, the fresh talk of a nuclear Iraq also comes amid a security environment that is yet to inspire confidence. Two government buildings were destroyed on Sunday by suicide bombers driving trucks through the heart of Baghdad, less than three months after an almost identical attack crippled two other ministries. Almost 300 people died in the attacks and more than 1,000 were maimed.
Fears also remain that radioactive material generated in Iraq, including yellowcake, a powder formed in the processing of uranium, is still unaccounted for six years after widespread looting at the site of the Tuwaitha nuclear research center on the southern outskirts of Baghdad.
A research center, a nuclear waste management facility and all three of Iraq’s reactors, known as Tamuz 1, Tamuz 2 and Tamuz 14, were located on the site. One of these, a French-made reactor, was destroyed in a 1981 Israeli bombing raid .
The area was crucial to Saddam’s bid over three decades bid to exert leverage over Iran and the US and fueled the belief in the international community that the executed dictator intended to weaponize Iraq’s nuclear capacity.
Since 2003, relics and contaminants have been gradually decommissioned in a program sponsored by international backers, including the IAEA, and run by Iraqi scientists.
“We lost some control and there was a lot of looting,” said a nuclear engineer, Adnan Jarjies, standing near one of the ruined reactor cores this week. Pointing to the nearby research plant, which is still partially standing, he said: “Some of the equipment was looted from this facility and we have to [rehabilitate] it again.”
Jarjies said the main phase of the four-part decommissioning program, which he supervises, started in 2007 and should be finished by the middle of next year.
Two ruined reactors remain largely as they were left after the 1991 bombing, with their contaminated cores now filled with concrete and water.
A third site that was once used as a storage center for spent reactor fuel is now a brick-strewn wasteland. The whole nuclear site remains surrounded by almost seven kilometers of 50-meter high sand berms.
“After 1991, U.N. Inspectors have been coming to this site four to five times per year,” said Jarjies. “They have had access whenever they wanted.”
Fahmi admitted there were “some impediments” to the plan. “At the moment, U.N. resolutions, including 707, don’t allow us to enter this field, so we are lobbying for the resolutions to be lifted,” he said.