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Iraqis at risk of nuclear contamination


- Mail $ Guardian

( Wednesday, April 26, 2006 )

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"Tuwaitha was bombed by the invaders, and then looted by Iraqis. Uranium drums were emptied and sold, with the empty barrels used to hold water."


More than 1 000 Iraqis who live south of Baghdad within the bombed and looted complex that was once the centre of Saddam Hussein's nuclear programme are at acute risk of radioactive poisoning, the United Nations' nuclear authority said on Monday.

The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency said it was launching a clean-up operation at the Tuwaitha plant, 22km south of Baghdad, and appealed for international involvement in what it said would be a long-term challenge. "This is a huge task, one that could take many years," said Dennis Reisenweaver, the IAEA safety expert in charge of the clean-up. The priority was to identify and cordon off the most hazardous areas of radioactive contamination.

The Tuwaitha complex was at the centre of Saddam's illicit nuclear projects, although it was thoroughly investigated and largely dismantled during the UN inspections in the 1990s.

The Americans, citing the threat of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction as grounds for their invasion and occupation in 2003, came under severe criticism for failing to secure the complex and standing by while it was ransacked.

Tuwaitha was bombed by the invaders, and then looted by Iraqis. Uranium drums were emptied and sold, with the empty barrels used to hold water.

Around 1 000 people are now living in a village within the perimeters of the nuclear complex, according to the IAEA. "Levels of radiation are known to be higher than normal and prolonged exposure could prove risky over time."

The agency said there was no risk of the proliferation of nuclear weapons from the materials at Tuwaitha, but that action was needed to trace missing materials and render them safe.

The Iraqi government has asked the IAEA to organise a programme at Tuwaitha and other sites to examine the problem of radioactive contamination. They are also concerned about radioactive material and equipment that has vanished from Iraq's nuclear sites.

"Some of the challenges facing the clean-up effort include determining now unknown locations where contaminated equipment and materials might be buried, and recovering lost records about the contents of radioactive materials stored in waste containers," the IAEA said. - Guardian Unlimited Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006

A Greenpeace expert takes radiation measurements.
Photo Above: A Greenpeace expert takes radiation measurements. Nuclear material and high levels of radioactivity were discovered in villages surrounding the looted Tuwaitha nuclear plant.
A container of radioactive uranium 'yellowcake', found abandoned in a community outside the Tuwaitha nuclear facility is presented to Paul Bremer.
Photo Above: A container of radioactive uranium 'yellowcake', found abandoned in a community outside the Tuwaitha nuclear facility is presented to Paul Bremer, then head of US civil administration in Iraq by Greenpeace activists.
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