Reports from Iraq are claiming that the Sunni militants that have been wreaking havoc across Iraq have now come into possession of nuclear material. The insurgent Islamic State in Iraq and Syria took control of the materials sometime last month as they advanced toward Baghdad across northern Iraq. Large areas of Iraq are currently beyond government control and in the hands of insurgents.
According to the notification issued by Iraqi authorities to the United Nations, the militants acquired low-grade nuclear material from a university seized in the northern city of Mosul. In the letter to the nuclear regulatory body of the UN, it was noted that nearly 90 pounds of uranium compounds that “can be used in manufacturing weapons of mass destruction” was stored at the university. According to Iraqi officials, the uranium had been used for scientific research.
The International Atomic Energy Agency released a statement saying that it was believed that the nuclear material, suspected to be uranium, was low grade and would not present a significant safety, security or nuclear proliferation risk. Experts in the safeguards division of the I.A.E.A. reportedly did not believe that the material could be fashioned into a weapon. The uranium is unsuitable for use in a “dirty bomb,” which uses conventional explosives to spread radiation around a central area. Highly enriched uranium is needed to create a nuclear weapon.
The Iraqi government recently agreed to abide by the I.A.E.A.’s Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, which requires its 150 signatories to “protect nuclear facilities and material in peaceful domestic use, storage and transport.” It also provides for expanded cooperation between and among states regarding rapid measures to locate and recover stolen or smuggled nuclear material, mitigate any radiological consequences of sabotage, and prevent any combat-related offenses.