* Iraq told U.N. that "terrorists" seized nuclear materials
* IAEA sees no significant security risk
* Russia says insurgent interest in atomic material
(Adds Russian, Iraqi statements, detail on former chemical
By Fredrik Dahl
VIENNA, July 10 The U.N. atomic agency said on
Thursday it believed nuclear material which Iraq said had fallen
into the hands of insurgents was "low grade" and did not pose a
significant security risk.
Iraq told the United Nations that the material was used for
scientific research at a university in the northern town of
Mosul and appealed for help to "stave off the threat of their
use by terrorists in Iraq or abroad".
Iraq's U.N. envoy this week also said that the government
had lost control of a former chemical weapons facility to "armed
terrorist groups" and was unable to fulfil its international
obligations to destroy toxins kept there.
An al Qaeda offshoot, Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant,
took over swathes of Syria and Iraq before renaming itself
Islamic State in June and declaring its leader caliph - a title
held by successors of the Prophet Mohammad.
The U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) "is aware
of the notification from Iraq and is in contact to seek further
details", IAEA spokeswoman Gill Tudor said.
"On the basis of the initial information we believe the
material involved is low grade and would not present a
significant safety, security or nuclear proliferation risk," she
said. "Nevertheless, any loss of regulatory control over nuclear
and other radioactive materials is a cause for concern."
Iraqi U.N. Ambassador Mohamed Ali Alhakim told U.N.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a July 8 letter that nearly 40
kg (88 pounds) of uranium compounds were kept at the university.
"Terrorist groups have seized control of nuclear material at
the sites that came out of the control of the state," he said.
However, a U.S. government source said it was not believed
to be enriched uranium and therefore would be difficult to use
to manufacture into a nuclear weapon.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich
said the reported seizure likely posed no direct threat. But, he
said: "The sheer fact that the terrorists ... show unmistakeable
interest in nuclear and chemical materials is, of course, very
NO "DIRTY BOMB" MATERIAL
Any loss or theft of highly enriched uranium, plutonium or
other types of radioactive material is potentially serious as
militants could try to use them to make a crude nuclear device
or a "dirty bomb", experts say.
Olli Heinonen, a former IAEA chief inspector, said that if
the material came from a university it could be laboratory
chemicals or radiation shielding, consisting of natural or
"You cannot make a nuclear explosive from this amount, but
all uranium compounds are poisonous," Heinonen told Reuters.
"This material is also not 'good' enough for a dirty bomb."
In a so-called "dirty bomb", radioactive material such as
might be found in a hospital or factory is combined with
conventional explosives that disperse the hazardous radiation.
Citing U.N. investigations dating back ten years or more,
Heinonen said there should be no enriched uranium in Mosul. The
Vienna-based IAEA helped dismantle Iraq's clandestine nuclear
programme in the 1990s - during Heinonen's three decades there.
"Iraq should not have any nuclear installation left which
uses nuclear material in these quantities," he said.
Another proliferation expert, Mark Hibbs of the Carnegie
Endowment think-tank, said: "The Mosul region and several
university departments were scoured again and again by U.N.
inspectors for a decade after the first Gulf War (1990-1991) and
they know what materials were stored there."
"These included tons of uranium liquid wastes, sources,
uranium oxides, and uranium tetrafluoride. Some of these items
are still there, but there's no enriched uranium," he said.
Iraq's Foreign Ministry said atomic material samples were
used at Mosul university laboratories in "very limited
quantities" for scientific study and research only. Iraqi
authorities had started to prepare a plan to get rid of them but
the security situation had prevented the work, it added.
(Additional reporting by Gabriela Baczynska in Moscow, Raheem
Salman in Baghdad and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations)