UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. nuclear agency said Thursday that nuclear material seized by the Islamic State extremist group when it overran the Iraqi city of Mosul is "low grade" and doesn't pose "a significant safety, security or nuclear proliferation risk."
International Atomic Energy Agency spokesman Gill Tudor was responding to a letter from Iraq's U.N. Ambassador Mohamed Ali Alhakim to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon informing him that "terrorist groups" took control of about 40 kilograms of uranium compounds at Mosul University which were used in scientific research.
Alhakim said the nuclear materials could enable terrorists, with additional expertise or in combination with other materials, to carry out terrorist acts or manufacture weapons of mass destruction.
He added that the materials could also be smuggled out of Iraq and asked for help "to stave off the threat of their use by terrorists in Iraq or abroad."
Tudor said "the IAEA is aware of the notification from Iraq and is in contact to seek further details," but she played down the threat.
"On the basis of the initial information we believe the material involved is low-grade and would not present a significant safety, security or nuclear proliferation risk," Tudor said in a statement. "Nevertheless, any loss of regulatory control over nuclear and other radioactive materials is a cause for concern."
The Iraqi letter, dated July 8 and obtained by The Associated Press, was the second regarding material that could be used in weapons of mass destruction.
In a letter circulated Tuesday, Alhakim said the Islamic State group also took control of a vast former chemical weapons facility northwest of Baghdad, where remnants of 2,500 degraded chemical rockets filled decades ago with the deadly nerve agent sarin are stored along with other chemical warfare agents.
The U.S. government played down the threat from the takeover, saying there are no intact chemical weapons and it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to use the material for military purposes.
The Islamic State group, which controls parts of Syria, sent its fighters into neighboring Iraq last month and quickly captured a vast stretch of territory straddling the border between the two countries. Last week, its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, declared the establishment of an Islamic state, or caliphate, in the land the extremists control.