Reuters just reported that radioactive material, Ir-192, was stolen last November from a facility in southern Basra.
The IAEA said the missing “Ir-192 radioactive source in a shielding container” was classified as a Category 2 radioactive substance that, if not managed properly, could be fatal to someone exposed for a period of hours to days.—NBC News
A U.S. oil field contracting company, Weatherford, was in possession of the material at the time it was taken. The radioactive material is described to be large enough to be stored in a protective case the size of a laptop computer.
“Weatherford said in a statement that 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,” it said. The material, 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, according to the document and officials.”—Reuters
The U.S. Department of State said they were aware of the missing radioactive material. However, they have not seen any intelligence linking it to ISIS at this time.
Additionally, in a related story, reports from Belgium indicate videos seized after the Paris attacks show a senior nuclear official’s house. The video showed 10 hours of what seemed to be surveillance of the official’s house. A local newspaper reported that the video was staged in some bushes and was retrieved by two individuals. Since the Paris attacks, 11 people have been arrested in Belgium in connection with the attacks.
Here is my assessment of the situation: With ISIS known to have used chemical weapons such as mustard gas before, it is plausible that they would seek radioactive material to construct a dirty bomb. The concentration of the radioactive material will of course vary depending on the amount of material seized and how many weapons they make. A dirty bomb of any size would be a huge victory in their eyes, yet the only ones they would be hurting would likely be other Muslims if the bomb were detonated in the Middle East. Iraq, Turkey, and the contracting company seem to be passing around the blame for losing the radioactive material in Basra.
Although the radioactive material was reportedly being used for legitimate purposes, the stability of Iraq doesn’t seem to have been taken into consideration given the security of the material. None of the reports indicate what efforts the contract company used for securing their hazardous material. It is entirely possible that whoever stole the radioactive material is unaware of its danger. While the State Department denies any intelligence related to the radioactive material, they may have information they are unable to divulge publicly. I would be interested to know more about the recovery effort being made to secure the missing radioactive material.
Featured image courtesy of Reuters