VIDEO REPORT BELOW: BAGHDAD // Iraq is searching for “highly dangerous” radioactive material (IR192) whose theft last year has raised fears among Iraqi officials that it could be used as a weapon if acquired by ISIL militants.
American oil and gas services firm Weatherford informed the Basra province environment commission on November 15 of the loss of radioactive material (IR192), said Khajak Ferweer, the head of the commission’s radiation department.
Baghdad reported the stolen material (IR192) to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in November but has not requested assistance to recover it, the UN nuclear watchdog said on Wednesday.
The material (IR192), stored in a protective case the size of a laptop computer, went missing from a storage facility near the southern city of Basra belonging to Weatherford, an environment ministry document showed.
Weatherford said it was not responsible or liable for the theft. “We do not own, operate or control sources or the bunker where the sources are stored,” the company said.
The material (IR192), which uses gamma rays to test flaws in materials used for oil and gas pipelines in a process called industrial gamma radiography, is owned by Istanbul-based SGS Turkey.
The US state department said it was aware of the reports but has seen no sign that ISIL or other militant groups have acquired it.
The environment ministry document describes “the theft of a highly dangerous radioactive source of Iridium-192 with highly radioactive activity belonging to SGS from a depot belonging to Weatherford in the Rafidhia area of Basra province”.
A senior environment ministry official based in Basra, said the device contained up to 10 grams of Ir-192 “capsules” – a radioactive isotope of iridium also used to treat cancer.
The IAEA has classified the material as a Category 2 radioactive source.
How harmful exposure can be is determined by a number of factors such as the material’s strength and age.
Mr Ferweer said that exposure to the missing material (IR192) can lead to burns in the short-term and cancer over a longer period, but that it cannot be used to manufacture a weapon.
But even if it cannot be used to make a nuclear fission bomb, radioactive material (IR192) can still be spread using conventional explosives in a so-called “dirty bomb” though the small amount of missing Ir-192 might not be sufficient for that application.
Large quantities of Ir-192 have gone missing before in the US, Britain and other countries, stoking fears among security officials that it could be used to make a dirty bomb.
A dirty bomb combines nuclear material with conventional explosives to contaminate an area with radiation. In contrast, a nuclear weapon uses nuclear fission to trigger a vastly more powerful blast.
The ministry document said the material (IR192) posed a risk of bodily and environmental harm as well as a national security threat.
“We are afraid the radioactive element will fall into the hands of Daesh,” said a senior security official, who works at the interior ministry.
There was no indication the material (IR192) had come into the possession of ISIL, which seized territory in Iraq and Syria in 2014 but does not control areas near Basra.
* Reuters and Agence France-Presse