UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Some Iraqi nuclear facilities appear
to be unguarded, and radioactive materials are being taken out of
the country, the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog agency reported
after reviewing satellite images and equipment that has turned up
in European scrapyards.

The International Atomic Energy Agency sent a letter to U.S.
officials three weeks ago informing them of the findings. The
information was also sent to the U.N. Security Council in a letter
from its director, Mohamed ElBaradei, that was circulated
yesterday.

The IAEA is waiting for a reply from the United States, which is
leading the coalition administering Iraq, officials said.

The United States has virtually cut off information-sharing with
the IAEA since invading Iraq in March 2003 on the premise that the
country was hiding weapons of mass destruction. No such weapons
have been found, and arms control officials now worry the war and
its chaotic aftermath may have increased chances that terrorists
could get their hands on materials used for unconventional weapons
or that civilians may be unknowingly exposed to radioactive
materials.

According to ElBaradei’s letter, satellite imagery shows
“extensive removal of equipment and in some instances,
removal of entire buildings,” in Iraq.

In addition, “large quantities of scrap, some of it
contaminated, have been transferred out of Iraq from sites”
previously monitored by the IAEA.

In January, the IAEA confirmed that Iraq was the likely source
of radioactive material known as yellowcake that was found in a
shipment of scrap metal at Rotterdam harbor.

Yellowcake, or uranium oxide, could be used to build a nuclear
weapon, although it would take tons of the substance refined with
sophisticated technology to harvest enough uranium for a single
bomb. The yellowcake in the shipment was natural uranium ore which
probably came from a known mine in Iraq that was active before the
1991 Gulf War.

The yellowcake was uncovered Dec. 16 by Rotterdam-based scrap
metal company Jewometaal, which had received it in a shipment of
scrap metal from a dealer in Jordan.

A small number of Iraqi missile engines have also turned up in
European ports, IAEA officials said.

“It is not clear whether the removal of these items has
been the result of looting activities in the aftermath of the
recent war in Iraq or as part of systematic efforts to rehabilitate
some of their locations,” ElBaradei wrote to the council.

The IAEA has been unable to investigate, monitor or protect
Iraqi nuclear materials since the U.S. invaded the country in March
2003. The United States has refused to allow the IAEA or other U.N.
weapons inspectors into the country, claiming that the coalition
has taken over responsibility for illicit weapons searches.

So far those searches have come up empty-handed and the
CIA’s first chief weapons hunter has said he no longer
believes Iraq had weapons just prior to the invasion.

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