July 7, 2008
Port of Monteal receives a ship load of Iraqi uranium
The Pentagon today confirmed a story that has been making headlines in Canada all weekend,
Defense personnel have completed the transfer of 550 metric tons of Iraqi uranium ore to Montreal, Canada, U.S. Defense officials said here today.
The Iraqi government asked the United States to help transfer the yellowcake -- as the ore is known -- from Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Center near Baghdad to its buyer in Canada, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said today.
The cost of the transfer was $70 million, and the government of Iraq will reimburse the United States for a portion of the cost, Whitman said.
The military dubbed the movement Operation McCall, and it ended July 5. DoD's portion of the operation involved the transfer of the ore.
Yellowcake is a uranium ore that can be processed to become nuclear fuel. State and Energy Department personnel also participated in the transfer.
Officials transferred the uranium by convoy from Tuwaitha nuclear research facility to a secure location in Baghdad's International Zone, Whitman said. The ore was in 110 shipping containers. The shipping containers were placed aboard Air Force C-17 Globemaster III airlifters and taken to an intermediate location. It took 37 sorties to transfer the yellowcake.
At the intermediate location -- which Whitman could not name, but which was widely reported in the Canadian press as Diego Garcia -- the ore was loaded aboard the SS Gopher State, a Military Sealift Command ship, which took it to Montreal.
"This was material that was discovered when we initially went in to Tuwaitha," Whitman said. "It was under the control of the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency since that time."
[Non-Pentagon sources say the word "discovered" is a stretch. The material was known to be there by the U.N. and had been disclosed to U.N. inspectors prior to the invasion of Iraq.]
Whitman stressed that yellowcake is not of direct use in a nuclear weapon. "It is a commodity that is traded routinely in the global nuclear energy sector," he said. "It can be used as a feed material for nuclear weapons if a country has access to the necessary fuel technology."
According to Canada's Globe and Mail, Cameco, the world's largest producer of uranium, was contacted by the U.S. State Department "earlier this year," and asked to join in the bidding process for the Iraqi material. Cameco, notes the Globe and Mail, also has a deal to buy uranium from decommissioned nuclear warheads in Russia.
After Cameco secured the contract to buy the yellowcake, U.S.-led crews began moving it from corroded, decades-old compartments to about 3,500 secure barrels and it began its journey to Montreal.