September 5, 2009

RESCUED FROM THE MEMORY HOLE:

U.S. removes 'yellowcake' from Iraq: Last major stockpile from Saddam's nuclear efforts arrives in Canada (The Associated Press, July 5, 2008)

The last major remnant of Saddam Hussein's nuclear program — a huge stockpile of concentrated natural uranium — reached a Canadian port Saturday to complete a secret U.S. operation that included a two-week airlift from Baghdad and a ship voyage crossing two oceans.

The removal of 550 metric tons of "yellowcake" — the seed material for higher-grade nuclear enrichment — was a significant step toward closing the books on Saddam's nuclear legacy. [...]

The deal culminated more than a year of intense diplomatic and military initiatives — kept hushed in fear of ambushes or attacks once the convoys were under way: first carrying 3,500 barrels by road to Baghdad, then on 37 military flights to the Indian Ocean atoll of Diego Garcia and finally aboard a U.S.-flagged ship for a 8,500-mile trip to Montreal.

And, in a symbolic way, the mission linked the current attempts to stabilize Iraq with some of the high-profile claims about Saddam's weapons capabilities in the buildup to the 2003 invasion.

Accusations that Saddam had tried to purchase more yellowcake from the African nation of Niger — and an article by a former U.S. ambassador refuting the claims — led to a wide-ranging probe into Washington leaks that reached high into the Bush administration. [...]

The yellowcake wasn't the only dangerous item removed from Tuwaitha.

Earlier this year, the military withdrew four devices for controlled radiation exposure from the former nuclear complex. The lead-enclosed irradiation units, used to decontaminate food and other items, contain elements of high radioactivity that could potentially be used in a weapon, according to the official. Their Ottawa-based manufacturer, MDS Nordion, took them back for free, the official said.

The yellowcake was the last major stockpile from Saddam's nuclear efforts, but years of final cleanup is ahead for Tuwaitha and other smaller sites.

The U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency plans to offer technical expertise.

Last month, a team of Iraqi nuclear experts completed training in the Ukrainian ghost town of Pripyat, which once housed the Chernobyl workers before the deadly meltdown in 1986, said an IAEA official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the decontamination plan has not yet been publicly announced.

But the job ahead is enormous, complicated by digging out radioactive "hot zones" entombed in concrete during Saddam's rule, said the IAEA official. Last year, an IAEA safety expert, Dennis Reisenweaver, predicted the cleanup could take "many years."

The yellowcake issue also is one of the many troubling footnotes of the war for Washington.

A CIA officer, Valerie Plame, claimed her identity was leaked to journalists to retaliate against her husband, former Ambassador Joe Wilson, who wrote that he had found no evidence to support assertions that Iraq tried to buy additional yellowcake from Niger.


Of course, the real issue was the taliation by Ms Plame, who used her husband to try to subvert the Executive, not the retaliation that exposed the plot.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 5, 2009 10:49 AM
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