NBC Weapons: Saddams Yellowcake Secretly Smuggled Away



July 9, 2008:In a secret operation, Canada completed the movement of 550 tons Iraqi uranium oxide, from Iraq to Canada. The Canadians will process the uranium oxide into fuel for nuclear power plants. The U.S. did most of the work to transport the 3,500 barrels of uranium oxide from Iraq, to Diego Garcia island in the Indian Ocean, and then, via a U.S. merchant ship, to Montreal, Canada.

The uranium oxide was what remained of Saddam's original 1980s nuclear program, the one that was halted by an Israeli air raid in 1981, which destroyed the Iraqi nuclear reactor. The uranium oxide has been in storage ever since, and was checked by UN inspectors after the 1991 war. If further refined, the Iraqi uranium oxide could produce enough weapons grade uranium for over 100 nuclear bombs.

Uranium oxide is produced by refining tons of dirt (ore) containing uranium to produce "yellowcake" (uranium oxide.) To do this, the dirt is crushed and bathed in sulfuric acid, dried and filtered to produce a yellowish powder, which is where the term "yellowcake" came from.

The yellowcake must then be processed further, using anhydrous hydrogen fluoride and fluorine gas, to form Uranium Hexafluoride. This stuff, while not very radioactive, is nasty and must be kept in air tight containers. If Uranium Hexafluoride gets in contact with water, if forms poisonous and corrosive gasses. Uranium Hexafluoride is used to obtain, via some more rather tricky refining, the highly radioactive Uranium 238 and Uranium 235 material that can be used in nuclear power plants and nuclear bombs.

Yellowcake is not very radioactive, a bit more so than the granite commonly used as a building material (and not considered a health hazard.) However, because yellowcake is a powder, it can easily be inhaled. This is dangerous in the long term. Even workers in uranium mines developed higher rates of cancer years later because they inhaled the dirt containing uranium.

Saddam never developed the engineering capability to build the plants to refine yellowcake into Uranium 238. He would have done so eventually, just as the Iranians are doing right now.


Article Archive

NBC Weapons: Current 2022 2021 2020 2019 2018 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 1999 



Help Keep Us Soaring

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling. We need your help in reversing that trend. We would like to add 20 new subscribers this month.

Each month we count on your subscriptions or contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage. A contribution is not a donation that you can deduct at tax time, but a form of crowdfunding. We store none of your information when you contribute..
Subscribe   Contribute   Close