What happened was that U.S. Marines stumbled across known stocks of uranium stored beneath the Tuwaitha nuclear research center, stocks that were not suitable for use in atomic weapons and had long since been cataloged, stored in sealed containers, and safeguarded by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), stored at a site that had been repeatedly surveyed by U.N. inspectors:
American troops who suggested they uncovered evidence of an active nuclear weapons program in Iraq unwittingly may have stumbled across known stocks of low-grade uranium, officials said. They said the U.S. troops may have broken U.N. seals meant to keep control of the radioactive material.
The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, which has inspected the Tuwaitha nuclear complex at least two dozen times and maintains a thick dossier on the site, had no immediate comment.
But an expert familiar with U.N. nuclear inspections told The Associated Press that it was implausible to believe that U.S. forces had uncovered anything new at the site. Instead, the official said, the Marines apparently broke U.N. seals designed to ensure the materials aren't diverted for weapons use or end up in the wrong hands.
"What happened apparently was that they broke IAEA seals, which is very unfortunate because those seals are integral to ensuring that nuclear material doesn't get diverted," the expert said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Several tons of low-grade uranium has been stored at Tuwaitha, Iraq's principal nuclear research center and a site that has been under IAEA safeguards for years, the official said. The Iraqis were allowed to keep the material because it was unfit for weapons use without costly and time-consuming enrichment.
The uranium was inspected by the U.N. nuclear agency twice a year and was kept under IAEA seal at least until the Marines seized control of the site.