BAGHDAD, Iraq — U.S. Marines may have found weapons-grade plutonium in a massive underground facility discovered beneath Iraq’s Al Tuwaitha nuclear complex, an embedded reporter told Fox News Thursday.
Coalition forces are investigating a stash of radioactive material found at the site south of Baghdad, the reporter, Carl Prine of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, told Fox News.
The material was discovered at the complex, which is operated by the Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission and is located south of Baghdad’s suburbs.
While officials aren’t prepared to call the discovery a “smoking gun,” two preliminary tests conducted on the material have indicated that it may be weapons-grade plutonium.
The discovery of the underground labyrinth of labs and warehouses was unexpected, Fox News has confirmed, and forces in the area are testing a variety of things to best determine the significance of the find.
So far, Marine nuclear and intelligence experts have found 14 buildings that have high levels of radiation, Prine reported Thursday.
His report noted that some of the tests have found nuclear residue too deadly for human contact.
The Marine radiation detectors go “off the charts” a few hundred meters outside the nuclear compound, where locals say “missile water” is stored in enormous caverns, reported Prine, who is embedded with the U.S. 1st Marine Division.
“It’s amazing,” Chief Warrant Officer Darrin Flick, the battalion’s nuclear, biological and chemical warfare specialist told the newspaper. “I went to the off-site storage buildings, and the rad detector went off the charts. Then I opened the steel door, and there were all these drums, many, many drums, of highly radioactive material.”
This underground discovery could still test to be perfectly legitimate and offer no proof of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. The CIA encouraged international inspectors in the fall of 2002 to probe Al Tuwaitha for weapons of mass destruction, and the inspectors came away empty-handed.
“They went through that site multiple times, but did they go underground? I never heard anything about that,” physicist David Albright, a former IAEA Action Team inspector in Iraq from 1992 to 1997, told the Tribune-Review.
“The Marines should be particularly careful because of those high readings,” he told the paper. “Three hours at levels like that and people begin to vomit. That leads me to wonder, if the readings are accurate, whether radioactive material was deliberately left there to expose people to dangerous levels.
“You couldn’t do scientific work in levels like that. You would die.”
Capt. John Seegar, a combat engineer commander from Houston, is currently running the operation in Al Tuwaitha. “I’ve never seen anything like it, ever,” he told the Tribune-Review. “How did the world miss all of this? Why couldn’t they see what was happening here?”
Fox News’ Carl Cameron contributed to this report.