An Iraqi defector has told interrogators that Iraq used 1940s technology to make weapons-grade uranium in a nuclear project previously undetected by the United States, two officials say.
The Iraqi, a government scientist who turned himself in to U.S. troops in northern Iraq, said Iraq had produced more than 80 pounds of enriched uranium using that process, the officials said.The defector is reported to have told his interrogators that the nuclear project is being conducted near the northern city of Mosul. U.S. and Soviet intelligence officials have known for some time that Iraq was conducting uranium enrichment work at a research complex called Saad 16 near Mosul.
They have also known that Iraq was mining uranium and building related facilities in the Gara mountains, 40 miles south of the Turkish border and not far from Mosul.
"What's new," said one official, is that the defector revealed Iraq had been trying to make weapons-grade uranium using a process known as calutron, a method used by the United States in the infancy of its nuclear program but abandoned in the mid 1940s, said the official.
"He's talking about a primitive, very inefficient technique," said the official. No country with a serious nuclear program has used it since then, he added.
"It's possible Iraq was able to advance somewhat with it," he said, "but I'd be cautious about the amounts" cited by the defector regarding the enriched uranium produced with this process.
He and another official - both speaking on condition of anonymity - said some of the defector's information was based on hearsay and was being regarded with caution by officials in the intelligence community.
His information came as Western intelligence officials were trying to determine how much of Iraq's nuclear program was destroyed in the massive allied bombings last January.