July 05, 2008

Here we GOOOOOOOOO. Uranium to reach Ontario- o - o - OH!

Canada gets Saddam's uranium


Associated Press

July 5, 2008 at 2:21 PM EDT

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. It also brought relief to U.S. and Iraqi authorities who had worried the cache would reach insurgents or smugglers crossing to Iran to aid its nuclear ambitions.

What's now left is the final and complicated push to clean up the remaining radioactive debris at the former Tuwaitha nuclear complex about 12 miles south of Baghdad — using teams that include Iraqi experts recently trained in the Chernobyl fallout zone in Ukraine.

“Everyone is very happy to have this safely out of Iraq,”
said a senior U.S. official who outlined the nearly three-month operation to The Associated Press. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

While yellowcake alone is not considered potent enough for a so-called “dirty bomb” — a conventional explosive that disperses radioactive material — it could stir widespread panic if incorporated in a blast. Yellowcake also can be enriched for use in reactors and, at higher levels, nuclear weapons using sophisticated equipment.

The Iraqi government sold the yellowcake to a Canadian uranium producer, Cameco Corp., in a transaction the official described as worth “tens of millions of dollars.” A Cameco spokesman, Lyle Krahn, declined to discuss the price, but said the yellowcake will be processed at facilities in Ontario for use in energy-producing reactors.

“We are pleased ... that we have taken (the yellowcake) from a volatile region into a stable area to produce clean electricity,” he said.

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 13,500-kilometre 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.

Tuwaitha and an adjacent research facility were well known for decades as the centre-piece of Saddam's nuclear efforts.

Israeli warplanes bombed a reactor project at the site in 1981. Later, UN inspectors documented and safeguarded the yellowcake, which had been stored in aging drums and containers since before the 1991 Gulf War. There was no evidence of any yellowcake dating from after 1991, the official said.

U.S. and Iraqi forces have guarded the massive site — surrounded by huge sand berms — following a wave of looting after Saddam's fall that included villagers toting away yellowcake storage barrels for use as drinking water cisterns.

Yellowcake is obtained by using various solutions to leach out uranium from raw ore and can have a corn meal-like colour and consistency. It poses no severe risk if stored and sealed properly. But exposure carries well-documented health concerns associated with heavy metals such as damage to internal organs, experts say.

“The big problem comes with any inhalation of any of the yellowcake dust,”
said Doug Brugge, a professor of public health issues at the Tufts University School of Medicine.

Moving the yellowcake faced numerous hurdles.

Diplomats and military leaders first weighed the idea of shipping the yellowcake overland to Kuwait's port on the Persian Gulf. Such a route, however, would pass through Iraq's Shiite heartland and within easy range of extremist factions, including some that Washington claims are aided by Iran. The ship also would need to clear the narrow Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Gulf, where U.S. and Iranian ships often come in close contact.

Kuwaiti authorities, too, were reluctant to open their borders to the shipment despite top-level lobbying from Washington.

An alternative plan took shape: shipping out the yellowcake on cargo planes. (oh, that's ludicrous! Really, REALLY dangerous. But Ontario MUST be made into the butthole of the world, no matter how dangerous THAT is .. )

But the yellowcake still needed a final destination. Iraqi government officials sought buyers on the commercial market, where uranium prices spiked at about $120 per pound last year. It's currently selling for about half that. The Cameco deal was reached earlier this year, the official said.

At that point, U.S.-led crews began removing the yellowcake from the Saddam-era containers — some leaking or weakened by corrosion — and reloading the material into about 3,500 secure barrels.

In April, truck convoys started moving the yellowcake from Tuwaitha to Baghdad's international airport, the official said. Then, for two weeks in May, it was ferried in 37 flights to Diego Garcia, a speck of British territory in the Indian Ocean where the U.S. military maintains a base.

On June 3, a U.S. ship left the island for Montreal, said the official, who declined to give further details about the operation.

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 UN'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.

A federal investigation led to the conviction of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.

See my links on dumping of uranium in Ontario, on my blog lowlevelradiation.blogspot.com

and you may wish to consider the following:

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Dera Ghazi Khan

Beginning in 1972 the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission began geological surveys to find mineable deposits of uranium. Uranium deposits were found in several locations in Pakistan. The Atomic Energy Minerals Centre (AEMC) in Lahore was responsible for the exploration and mining operations. The Siwalik Hills, west of Dera Ghazi Khan, was indentified as the most promising location. Even this uranium ore is of relatively low grade, containing only a few kg of uranium per ton [compared to tens of kilograms in high-grade Canadian or Australian ore].

In 1996 Pakistan launched a five-year effort to locate new uranium resources. The $7 million effort included exploratory drilling, reconnaisance and radon track density surveys and mapping in the areas of north and south Nangar Nai, Khara-Murghan Zai and Pitek Sori Gorakh in the Dera Ghanzi Khan region.

The Pakisani uranium extraction plant, located in the same region, was designed by Pakistani chemical, mechanical and electrical engineers from AEMC and other PAEC centers with the assistance from other Pakistani industrial concerns which manufactured certain key components. Construction of the uranium yellow cake plant was completed in short order, and the first yellow cake, which is a concentrated form of uranium, was produced at the plant within 12 months of the start of construction.

Sources and Resources

  • "How Pakistan Made Nuclear Fuel" by Munir Ahmad Khan, former chairperson of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission: Islamabad The Nation 7 February 1998, page 7 [Pakistan: Article on How Pakistan Made Nuclear Fuel : FBIS-NES-98-042 : 11 Feb 1998]
  • [NB96.36-16] Pakistan: Uranium Institute News Briefing

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