- Saddam Hussein built and tested a doomsday
weapon designed to mimic the effects of the Chernobyl disaster. Iraqi scientists
designed a radiation bomb that could be fired from the Supergun to spread
a cloud of lethal zirconium dust over Middle Eastern cities.
- Details of the top-secret project have
been revealed by British Foreign Office sources, among them the current
chief weapons inspector for the United Nations.
- The project was uncovered when a UN team
hunting for chemical and biological weapons visited a remote arms testing
site in Iraq's western desert in 1995. They were astonished to be told
of the existence of the radiation bomb, but were asked not to reveal details.
- The idea for radiation weapons was first
nurtured by America at the start of the cold war as an offshoot of its
atomic bomb programme. Such weapons offer the advantage of silently spreading
deadly contamination that could terrorise and paralyse industrial cities.
However, the weapons were considered so repulsive that they were never
put into America's arsenal.
- While there have been reports that Iraq
was considering such a weapon, confirmation that it carried out tests or
that it would be launched from the Supergun has never emerged. Had Saddam
deployed it, he could have hit targets within 750 miles, including Tel
Aviv, Istanbul and Cairo.
- David Kelly, a Ministry of Defence scientist
seconded to head the current missions by Unscom, the UN special commission
investigating Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, said General Faiz Shahine,
deputy minister for oil, hastily called a meeting with UN inspectors when
he realised they planned to visit a contaminated site at Al Mohammidiat
about 100 miles west of Baghdad in late 1995. "We were surprised to
say the least," said Kelly.
- "Nobody suspected that Saddam had
developed a radiation weapon. We were taken to a vast site, way out towards
the western desert.
- "We are talking about an area that
was desolate, the sort of area from where they would have had to clear
nomads to do the tests. They had a large ammunition dump there which served
as the administrative headquarters."
- The weapon used zirconium metal, irradiated
in a reactor and then packed into a shell with conventional explosives.
It is believed to have been built at Iraq's main chemical weapons establishment
at Al Muthanna, about 50 miles northwest of Baghdad, and transported to
the test site.
- Most of the zirconium used in the tests
was taken from one of Iraq's own nuclear reactors at Al Tarmiya, north
of Baghdad, although some may have been stolen from the Chernobyl reactor,
according to Foreign Office sources. Sergei Parashin, director of the Chernobyl
nuclear plant, has confirmed that two zirconium fuel rods went missing
"before, during, or since the Chernobyl disaster".
- The 1986 explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear
plant spread a radioactive cloud that contaminated huge areas of the Russian
and Ukrainian countryside. It poisoned water supplies and led to premature
cancers and a generation of birth defects.
- Additional reporting: Edin Hamzic