AMSTERDAM -- The United Nations nuclear watchdog confirmed yesterday that Iraq was the likely source of radioactive material known as yellowcake that was found in a shipment of scrap metal at Rotterdam harbor.
Yellowcake, or uranium oxide, could be used to build a nuclear weapon, although it would take tons of the substance refined with sophisticated technology to harvest enough uranium for one bomb.
A spokeswoman for the International Atomic Energy Agency, Melissa Fleming, said the Rotterdam specimen was scarcely refined from natural uranium ore and may have come from a mine in Iraq active before the 1991 Gulf War: "I wouldn't hype it too much. It was a small amount, and it wasn't being peddled as a sample."
The yellowcake was found Dec. 16 by Rotterdam-based scrap metal company Jewometaal, which had received it in a shipment of scrap metal from a dealer in Jordan. Company spokesman Paul de Bruin said the Jordanian dealer did not know that the scrap metal contained radioactive material. He said the dealer was confident that the yellowcake, which was contained in a small steel industrial container, came from Iraq.
Jewometaal detected the radioactive material during a routine scan and contacted the Dutch government, which asked the IAEA to examine it. Fleming said the UN agency will compare the chemical composition of the sample with other samples of ore taken from Iraq's Qaim mine, which was bombed in 1991 and dismantled from 1996 to '97.