A Luxembourg metals company, in violation of international safeguards, sold Israel close to 47 tons of uranium last year that could be used for nuclear weapons production, European Community officials said today.
Officials of the International Atomic Energy Agency were reported to be satisfied with Israeli explanations about the shipment and did not believe the material was used to make nuclear weapons, according to EC officials.
Luxembourg has since pledged to block similar sales.
Fabio Colasanti, an EC spokesman, said Israel allowed inspectors from the IAEA to examine a major part of the 47 tons of uranium after the violation was discovered. Colasanti said he thinks the inspection occurred in late 1984.
The shipment to Israel was discovered in May 1984 by officials of Euratom, the European Community agency that directs the EC atomic energy program and monitors trade in nuclear materials among the 10 member states, according to Colasanti.
The Euratom officials found that a private Luxembourg metals trading company imported about 40 tons of depleted uranium from Britain and about seven tons of depleted uranium from France, and resold the material to Israel without notifying Euratom, Colasanti said. Officials would not identify the company further.
The depleted uranium can be used to make weapons-grade material, but only through a difficult, very costly process, Colasanti said.
The Luxembourg authorities took the position that because the depleted uranium is not normally used for making nuclear weapons, they were not obligated under international agreements to notify Euratom, he said.
Euratom officials said, however, that international rules on the trade of such material were unambiguous.
Colasanti said, "They the Luxembourg officials understand now that they have made a mistake, and they won't repeat it."
The shipment first came to light in the 1984 annual report of the IAEA, which briefly mentioned the violation without naming the companies or countries involved. The annual report is scheduled to be released soon.
The uncovering of the shipment was the first time IAEA inspectors have found such a violation of international rules governing the transfer of nuclear material since the signing of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in 1968, Colasanti said.
Israel did not sign the agreement, but in this case allowed IAEA inspection of part of the material.
Most experts believe Israel has the capability to make nuclear weapons, but Israel has never acknowledged possessing the devices.
If used for nuclear purposes, the amount of uranium Israel received through Luxembourg could make about five pounds of weapons-grade material, Colasanti said.
While assuring IAEA inspectors that the depleted uranium would not be used for weapons, Israeli authorities did not reveal why the uranium was imported, Colasanti said. Because of its high specific weight, the uranium also has a number of industrial uses.
Israel has been suspected in the past of clandestinely diverting nuclear material for use in a weapons manufacturing program.