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.
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.