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U.S. removed nuclear material from Iraq

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The U.S. removed radioactive material from Iraq.
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International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States removed nearly two tons of radiological and nuclear materials from Iraq last month, the Energy Department said.

The material could have potentially been used to make a "radiological dispersal device" -- a so-called dirty bomb -- "or diverted to support a nuclear weapons program," the department said Tuesday.

Radiological sources for medical, agricultural or industrial purposes were not removed, the department said. Less-sensitive materials were repackaged and remained in Iraq.

The departments of Energy and Defense removed "1.77 metric tons of low-enriched uranium and roughly 1,000 highly radioactive sources from the former Iraq nuclear research facility," Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said Tuesday.

"This operation was a major achievement for the Bush administration's goal to keep potentially dangerous nuclear materials out of the hands of terrorists," Abraham said. "It also puts this material out of reach for countries that may seek to develop their own nuclear weapons."

The material was gathered from around Iraq and taken to the Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Center, 11 miles southeast of Baghdad and the main site for the Iraqi nuclear program before the war.

The United States notified the International Atomic Energy Agency of the planned transfer on June 19, but "requested IAEA to keep the information about the intended transfer confidential for ... security reasons," Mohamed ElBaradei said in a letter released Wednesday by the United Nations.

It was then was flown to the United States on June 23, where it will be held at secure sites, said Brian Wilkes, a spokesman for the National Nuclear Security Administration.

The low-enriched uranium will be sold to "vendors" for use at nuclear power plants, he said. U.S. authorities were concerned that the uranium could have been converted to weapons-grade material.

Ivan Oelrich, a physicist at the Federation of American Scientists, said the Energy Department's information is vague, but added that he is pleased the United States took possession of the material.

"This is something that we should be doing all over the world," he said. "This is a very good thing. It provides a better way of tracking."

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