ZURICH/BAGHDAD Swiss inspections group SGS and U.S. group Weatherford International Plc traded recriminations on Thursday, both denying responsibility for the disappearance last year of radioactive material used to test pipes at an oil field in southern Iraq.
Reuters reported on Wednesday that Iraq was searching for a "highly dangerous" radioactive source whose theft in November had raised fears among Iraqi officials that it could be used as a weapon if acquired by Islamic State.
SGS said in a statement that the equipment and material, when not in use, had been stored in a "secured bunker" provided by Weatherford, which it said was the "main contractor" and had hired its Turkish unit to perform the tests.
"The disappearance of the equipment occurred while the equipment was stored in the Weatherford bunker," it said, adding the loss was discovered on Nov. 3.
Weatherford said on Thursday it holds no responsibility or liability in relation to the issue and had answered all inquiries raised by Iraqi and U.S. authorities to their satisfaction.
"SGS Supervise Gozetme Etud Control had sole control and access to the material and bunker," it said in a statement, referring to the Turkish unit of SGS.
Yet SGS said its staff required Weatherford's prior written approval to access the site.
"The site where these operations are conducted is fully secured and guarded by security guards under the responsibility of the owner of the site. SGS does not assume any responsibility for the site security and does not control accesses," SGS said, adding that many contractors used the site.
Its Turkish business immediately notified Iraqi authorities and cooperated fully with the investigation, it said.
SGS added that it has no contractual relation with Iraq-based security company Ta'az, which it said controlled the site and employed expatriate staff.
An operations manager for Ta'az previously declined to comment, citing instructions from Iraqi security authorities.
SGS said the radioactive content of the stolen device was most likely very weak, putting its strength at nine curies, a conventional unit for measuring radioactivity.
Radioactive sources used in equipment like this are similar in strength to those used in medical radiography, it said.
"At the time of the disappearance of the equipment, the source was close to the end of its useful life," SGS said. "It is therefore safe to affirm that the remaining radioactive content of the source is now very weak."
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said separately that Iraqi authorities had reported on Thursday that no elevated radiation levels have been detected following the theft.
"They informed the IAEA that after the theft of a source, an extensive search was performed and a criminal investigation was launched," the U.N. nuclear watchdog said in a statement.
(Additional reporting by Joshua Franklin in Zurich; Editing by Alison Williams and Matthew Lewis)
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