A recent report stated fears that nuclear material that had gone missing in Iraq might end up in the hands of the Islamic State (ISIS) and could easily be used to make a ‘dirty bomb’.
Reuters reported on Wednesday that the material, .35 ounces of Ir-192, a radioactive isotope of iridium, was stored in a case the size of a laptop computer which was stolen in November from a secure site in Basra, Iraq
Reuters cited a document, dated 30 November and addressed to the ministry’s Centre for Prevention of Radiation, describing “the theft of a highly dangerous radioactive source of Ir-192 with highly radioactive activity from a depot…in the Rafidhia area of Basra province”.
A senior Iraqi security official from the Interior Ministry said to Reuters, “We are afraid the radioactive element will fall into the hands of Daesh (ISIS). They could simply attach it to explosives to make a dirty bomb.”
The U.S. State Department said it was aware of the reports but has seen no sign that Islamic State or other militant groups have actually acquired it.
ISIS has used mustard gas in the past against Kurdish forces and it is strongly feared they will not hesitate to use such a bomb.
A dirty bomb or radiological dispersal device (RDD) is a weapon that combines radioactive material with conventional explosives, contaminating the area around the explosion with deadly radioactive material. This is in contrast to a nuclear weapon, which uses nuclear fission to trigger a vastly more powerful blast.
Ir-192 is classed as a Category 2 radioactive by the International Atomic Energy Agency, meaning it could cause permanent injury to a person in close proximity to it for minutes or hours, and could be fatal to someone exposed for a period of hours to days.
Gamma rays from Ir-192 are used to detect flaws in oil pipelines in a process called industrial gamma radiography. The stolen material was being used by Weatherford International Plc, though it was owned by Istanbul-based SGS Turkey. Both companies are blaming each other for the situation.
SGS accused Weatherford, saying, “The disappearance of the equipment occurred while the equipment was stored in the Weatherford bunker.”
Weatherford responded by stating, “SGS Supervise Gozetme Etud Control had sole control and access to the material and bunker.”