A small team of UN nuclear experts was traveling to Baghdad yesterday to begin a damage assessment at Iraq's largest nuclear facility, left unguarded by US troops during the early days of the war and then pillaged by villagers. \nIraqi scientists who have surveyed the damage at the Tuwaitha plant said looters left behind piles of uranium and spilled radioactive materials. The scientists cemented over the spilled materials to prevent leakage or further exposure to residents in the area. \nThe US tried to keep the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) out of postwar Iraq. But it reluctantly agreed to allow the agency's return under pressure from the arms-control community, which was concerned about Tuwaitha's safety and US capability to secure the area and account for its contents. \n"The IAEA can best tell what's missing, and they're fully prepared to do that pretty rapidly," said David Albright, an American nuclear expert. \nUS military commanders acknowledged this week that, after nearly three months on the ground, they remain unequipped to handle the nuclear site. \n"I know that the Tuwaitha facility is larger than the assets we have now in country to deal with it," said Lieutenant. General David McKiernan, commander of US ground forces in Iraq. \nFor more than a decade, the IAEA monitored nearly two tonnes of uranium and radioactive materials tagged at the defunct facility. But the US cut UN inspectors out of the weapons hunt when it went to war without UN backing. \nFor this trip, the Pentagon limited the number of IAEA staff to seven and said the assessment would have to be completed within two weeks. \nThe team was originally told it would have to stay at the site in tents set up by the army, but the IAEA said Washington had since agreed to let the team stay at the UN compound in Baghdad. \nPentagon officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the IAEA team would be accompanied at all times by American troops and weapons experts. But IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said the team would work independently. \n"We're not going to conduct any activities with the military," she told The Associated Press. \nThe Pentagon has also stressed that the IAEA visit would be a one-time event to enforce the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty -- and not a weapons inspection that might set a precedent for future UN searches for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. \nWhatever the team finds at Tuwaitha, it will probably be messy. \nDr. Hamed Al-Bahili, an Iraqi nuclear scientist who helped design and open Tuwaitha in 1968, was one of the first on the scene after fleeing Iraqi troops abandoned the site. \nRaising his hand 5cm above the linoleum floor in his living room, Al-Bahili said: "The uranium was all over the floor -- all over the ground outside. Piles of it. We poured cement over it inside the rooms because there was no other way to handle it." \nAl-Bahili said he pleaded with impoverished villagers in the area not to touch the blue barrels the IAEA had used to store the uranium, "but there were thousands of people -- they just kept coming," he said in an interview on Thursday at his Baghdad home. \nReturning to Baghdad, he found Iraqi police who passed on his description of the scene and dangers to advancing US troops. \nUS troops involved in the hunt for weapons of mass destruction said recently that at least 20 percent of the barrels containing low-grade or natural uranium appeared to be gone. \nFleming said some 3,000 barrels were stored there under the agency's watch. \nLast week, American troops accompanied by Iraqi health workers ordered residents from the surrounding villages to sell back barrels for US$3 each. Pentagon officials said Thursday that more than 100 barrels had been retrieved. \nFleming said the IAEA would be permitted to examine its barrels. The rest of the mission, however, is restricted to the Tuwaitha site.
NASA scientists on Friday presented striking early images from the picture-perfect landing of the Mars rover Perseverance, including a selfie of the six-wheeled vehicle dangling just above the surface of the Red Planet moments before touchdown. The color photograph, likely to become an instant classic among memorable images from the history of spaceflight, was snapped by a camera mounted on the rocket-powered “sky crane” descent-stage just above the rover as the car-sized space vehicle was being lowered on Thursday to Martian soil. The image was unveiled by mission managers during an online news briefing Webcast from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) near
A rogue overgrown sheep found roaming through regional Australia has been shorn of his 35kg fleece — a weight even greater than that of the famous New Zealand sheep Shrek, who was captured in 2005 after six years on the loose. The merino ram, dubbed Baarack by rescuers, was discovered wandering alone with an extraordinarily overgrown wool coat, and was promptly shorn to save his life. Kyle Behrend, from the Edgar’s Mission farm sanctuary, said that it appeared Baarack was “once an owned sheep” who had escaped. Merino sheep do not shed their fleece and need to be shorn at least annually, as
Three years after a deadly virus struck India’s endangered Asiatic lions in their last remaining natural habitat, conservationists are hunting for new homes to help booming prides roam free. The majestic big cats, slightly smaller than their African cousins and with a fold of skin along their bellies, were once found widely across southwest Asia. Hunting and human encroachment saw the population plunge to just 20 by 1913, and the lions are now found only in a wildlife sanctuary in India’s western Gujarat State. Following years of concerted government efforts, the lion population in Gir National Park has swelled to nearly 700, according
DMZ SWIM: Over more than three hours, South Korean surveillance cameras caught him eight times and audible alarms sounded twice, but border guards did not notice A North Korean defector wore a diving suit and fins during a daring six-hour swim around one of the world’s most fortified borders and was only caught after apparently falling asleep, a Seoul official said. South Korean forces did not spot the man’s audacious exploit, despite his appearance several times on surveillance cameras after he landed and triggered alarms, drawing heavy criticism from media and opposition lawmakers. Even after his presence was noticed, the man — who used diving gear to make his way by sea around the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that divides the Korean Peninsula — was not caught for another