Iraqi nuclear fuel stash quietly shipped to Quebec

With a report from the Associated Press

July 7, 2008

OTTAWA AND TORONTO -- Almost everything about the deal made for spy 
novel fodder: a multimillion-dollar shipment of yellowcake uranium, 
the final vestiges of Saddam Hussein's once-hyped nuclear program, 
quietly moved from Baghdad to Montreal via a controversial U.S. 
military base in the Indian Ocean, all done under orders of absolute 

But for all the cloak and dagger, it was a relatively straightforward 
transaction. "It was business as usual," Transport Canada spokeswoman 
Marie-Anyk Côté said of the deal that saw Saskatoon-based Cameco 
Corp. purchase some 550 tonnes of yellowcake, which is used to make 
fuel for nuclear reactors. The volatile, but often transported, cargo 
arrived in Montreal by ship on Saturday.

Although Cameco says the U.S. military, which helped organize the 
sale, asked for the deal to be done in secrecy, the Canadian 
government agency that monitors such transports was less paranoid. 

Ms. Côté said Transport Canada gave a lot of thought to where the 
shipment was coming from - perhaps the most volatile place in the 

However, if the agency did have concerns, she added, the shipment 
wouldn't have gone ahead.
Still, existing laws for shipping radioactive material meant the 
delivery was subject to myriad restrictions - everything from 
packaging to the weight of the shipment to the emergency-response 
plan were tightly regulated.

Uranium is classified under Class 7 - radioactive materials - in the 
transportation of dangerous goods regulations. Although yellowcake 
could possibly be used in a weapons-creation process, it does not 
pose a high risk if stored and handled properly.

With major mining operations in Saskatchewan, Cameco is the world's 
largest producer of uranium. Company spokesman Lyle Krahn said Cameco 
was contacted by the U.S. State Department "earlier this year," and 
asked to join in the bidding process for the Iraqi material.

Although the deal is technically with the Iraqi government - Baghdad 
gets the money - Washington had a significant driving role in the 

The yellowcake, all of which is believed to date before 1991, 
originated at the Tuwaitha nuclear complex south of Baghdad. Military 
and diplomatic officials initially considered sending the uranium to 
Kuwait's port on the Persian Gulf, but such a route would pass 
through Shia-controlled areas of Iraq within close proximity to 
insurgents. Kuwait was also reluctant to proceed.

After Cameco secured the contract to buy the uranium, U.S.-led crews 
began moving the yellowcake from corroded, decades-old compartments 
to about 3,500 secure barrels. In April, convoys moved the shipment 
from Tuwaitha to Baghdad's international airport.

It took two weeks and 37 flights in May to transport the cargo to a 
U.S. military base in Diego Garcia, a tiny British territory in the 
Indian Ocean, before it was shipped to Montreal.

Cameco would not disclose how much it is paying for the 550 tonnes of 
Iraqi "yellowcake," but Mr. Krahn indicated Cameco would make money 
on the deal. That would suggest Cameco paid less than market rates 
for the uranium. The spot price for the metal currently stands at $59 
(U.S.) a pound while the so-called "term price" is about $80 a pound.

At $59 a pound, the material would be worth about $72-million. At $80 
a pound, about $97-million.

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