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Blog: Iran tried to smuggle uranium from the Congo

Published: Tuesday August 8, 2006

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An United Nations report shows that Iran recently attempted to smuggle uranium out of the Democratic Republic of Congo, RAW STORY has learned.

Douglas Douglas Farah, an investigative journalist and terrorism expert, blogged about a Sunday Times (UK) story showing that a shipment of uranium-238 had been intercepted in Tanzania en route to Iran in October 2005. The U-238 was reportedly concealed in a shipment of coltan, a material that is used in the manufacture of chips for cell phones. The Times story said the July UN report found "a huge shipment of smuggled uranium 238." A Tanzanian customs official contacted by the Times further explained "When we opened the container it was full of drums of coltan. Each drum contains about 50kg of ore. When the first and second rows were removed,the ones after that were found to be drums of uranium."

Farah also pointed to purported efforts by North Korea to open up a uranium mine in the DRC, the chaotic Central African state beset by years of civil war, and warned "It is not just states that turn criminal that pose a danger to our strategic interests by providing logistical and financial support to Islamist groups and organized criminal gangs. It is states that cannot control areas of access to vital resources that pose an equal threat."

There are some indications that Iran is not in need of foreign sources of uranium. reports that Iran has 10 uranium mines operating in the country, and that therefore "Iran's domestic reserves might be sufficient enough to supply the raw material for needed nuclear power plants in future." The Saghand mine in the northeastern Yazd province reportedly has "reserves estimated at 3,000-5,000 tons of uranium oxide," the feeder material known as yellowcake that is a common first step in making nuclear fuel.

This is not the first time that the DR Congo has been identified as a source of uranium for states with nuclear weapons programs. In September 2002, the Times also reported that Iraq sought uranium from the country.