September 28, 2002

OH NO, SADDAM’S NOT TRYING TO GET NUCLEAR WEAPONS — THAT’S JUST BUSH ELECTIONEERING SO HE CAN BLOCK PRESCRIPTION DRUG BENEFITS: All I can say is thank God for the Turks:

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish paramilitary police have seized more than 33 pounds of weapons-grade uranium and detained two men accused of smuggling the material, the state-run Anatolian news agency said on Saturday.

Officers in the southern province of Sanliurfa, which borders Syria and is about 155 miles from the Iraqi border, were acting on a tip-off when they stopped a taxi cab and discovered the uranium in a lead container hidden beneath the vehicle’s seat, the agency said.

That’s critical mass folks — enough for a bomb all by itself. If this report holds up, it’s a smoking gun. Not that we needed one, really, at this point, but. . . .

UPDATE: A reader sends this enlarged photo which seems to indicate that the uranium came from West Germany, though I don’t know how much credence I’d put in that (could just be the shipping container). It also can’t be critical mass if it’s all in one place. My figure for critical mass of weapons-grade high-enriched U-235 is 15kg, which I got from memory but which this source and several others on Google say is right. That means that either (1) this isn’t really weapons-grade; (2) there’s not really 33 pounds (15kg) there; or (3) it was divided into more than one package despite the report’s seeming to indicate that it was all in one. A long cylinder containing 15kg of weapons-grade U-235 wouldn’t explode, and it might not even melt, but it would be highly radioactive and thermally hot — not suitable for smuggling. Hard to say, but my prediction is that this will turn out to be something less than initially advertised.

The New York Times has the same wire story but it’s not on the front page. Oh, and a reader emails to point out that “West Germany” no longer exists. Well, duh, but that only means the container is over 12 years old. As I suggest above, we can’t judge the origin of the material by the origin of the container.

ANOTHER UPDATE: N.Z. Bear has a lot more information.

Lastly, Whigging Out urges calm.

Or not lastly — one more. Jim Henley suggests, as do some emailers, that the stuff may have been on the way to Syria. That’s certainly not out of the question.