Insurgents in Iraq have seized nuclear materials used for scientific research at a university in the country's north, Iraq told the United Nations in a letter appealing for help to "stave off the threat of their use by terrorists in Iraq or abroad."
Nearly 40 kilograms (88 pounds) of uranium compounds were kept at Mosul University, Iraq's U.N. Ambassador Mohamed Ali Alhakim told U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in the July 8 letter obtained by Reuters on Wednesday.
It could be worse, though:
A U.S. government source familiar with the matter said the materials were not believed to be enriched uranium and therefore would be difficult to use to manufacture into a weapon. Another U.S. official familiar with security matters said he was unaware of this development raising any alarm among U.S. authorities.
The New York Times backs up the notion that the threat posed by the seizure is limited, quoting an International Atomic Energy Agency representative who says the news likely does not present "a significant safety, security or nuclear proliferation risk."
Here's an informative Smithsonian article on the differences between typical uranium and weapons-grade uranium.