10 March, 2007

reaping Atoms for Peace

Guardian:

The head of the Democratic Republic of Congo's dilapidated and poorly guarded nuclear reactor plant has been arrested on suspicion of illegally selling enriched uranium, following the disappearance of large quantities of the material.
. . .

Le Phare newspaper reported that about 100 bars of uranium had disappeared from the small experimental reactor, the oldest nuclear facility in Africa. The uranium produced by the reactor in Congo's capital, Kinshasa, is enriched but not to weapons grade, although it could be used in a "dirty bomb" to spread radiation.

The International Atomic Energy Agency and foreign governments have expressed concern about lax security at the plant, which the US has tried to get closed for a number of years. Two years ago the Congolese government denied reports that uranium was shipped to Iran.
. . .

The IAEA has criticised standards at the site, which is often left unguarded and is protected only by a low fence and rickety gate. Although the reactor has been on standby for nine years, there are 98 bars of enriched uranium stored at the site, submerged in a pool underneath a padlocked metal grate or in the reactor.

Two uranium rods disappeared from the facility in the late 1970s, one of which is believed to have been found in 1998 on its way to the Middle East via the mafia. The other was never recovered.

The nuclear facility was founded in 1958 with help from the US because the then Belgian Congo provided the uranium used in the atom bombs dropped on Japan. It also handles uranium mined in the south of the country for export. In the chaos of the past decade of foreign invasion and civil war in Congo, illegal mining has boomed with thousands of Congolese make a living from using shovels and their bare hands to hack it from the earth.


Short term pragmatism strikes again.

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