Global Policy Forum

Did Iraq Conduct a Clandestine Nuclear Test?

June 11, 2001
The chief U.N. arms inspector and experts at a London think tank have concluded there was no evidence Iraq had carried out a successful nuclear test in 1989, as alleged in news reports earlier this year.

Hans Blix, the executive chairman of the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, said he reported to the U.N. Security Council last week "the information is totally wrong" that Iraq conducted a nuclear test beneath Lake Rezazza, southwest of Baghdad on Sept. 19, 1989, before the Gulf War.

He told reporters his department and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had evidence in its files, from overhead flights and previous ground inspections "there had been no nuclear tests" nor a tunnel under the lake.

Purported evidence of a test, from two defecting former scientists in Iraq and an interpretation of satellite photographs of the test area, was reported in London's Sunday Times newspaper in February and received fairly wide coverage.

Terry Wallace, a professor of Geosciences at the University of Arizona, says that while it is far easier to prove something did happen than to prove it did not there was no reason to believe the story is "anything but a hoax."

An examination of global earthquake catalogs, produced by the International Seismic Center and U.S. Geological Survey, revealed no significant seismic activity in Iraq the day the test was alleged to have taken place, Wallace said.

Such an explosion he said, in an article for the London-based think tank, the Verification, Training and Information Center, would have been easily detectable by international or by regional monitoring in Iran, Israel or Jordan, which keep records of earthquakes.

None of them reported any seismic events of the magnitude necessary for a nuclear test in the region around Lake Rezazza, Wallace said.

U.N. arms inspectors have not been permitted to track down Baghdad's weapons of mass destruction since mid-December 1998, when they were withdrawn shortly before the United States and Britain launched a four-day bombing campaign prompted by Iraq's failure to cooperate with the arms teams.

Blix's agency has now signed a contract with a private, satellite firm and is restarting overhead flights this month.

Earlier this year, Western intelligence agencies alleged that Iraq had reconstituted parts of its banned arms programs. The German Federal Intelligence Agency (BND) in February told selected reporters Iraq could produce a nuclear device in three years and fire a missile as far as Europe by 2005.

U.S. and British officials alleged in January that Iraq had rebuilt three factories capable of producing chemical and biological weapons.

The IAEA, meanwhile, carried out its annual inspection of the Iraq's Tuwaitha nuclear power center in January and reported that low-grade nuclear material held there had not been moved since its last visit.

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