US administration served Iraqi yellowcake

Feature story - 4 July, 2003
The "yellowcake" sample we delivered to Paul Bremer, head of the US civil administration in Iraq, is safely contained - but who knows how much is still left unsecured and unsafe in the local community. We brought Mr Bremer a container of the radioactive uranium found abandoned near the Tuwaitha nuclear facility and urged him to allow the return of inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to carry out a full survey and decontamination of Iraq.

Greenpeace delivers a container of radioactive uranium'yellow cake found abandoned in the community outside the Tuwaitha nuclear facility, to Mr Bremmer, head of US civil administration in Baghdad.

After arriving outside the Office of Rehabilitation and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA) - now located in one of Saddam Hussein's palaces in Baghdad - we challenged Mr Bremer to accept responsibility for the "yellowcake" and for the rest of the radioactive material that is contaminating the environment and threatening public health.

The US Administration insists there is no danger or health risk to the villages, despite evidence of widespread radioactive contamination in the area, after the facility was left unsecured at the end of the war and was subsequently looted. Authorities allowed the IAEA into Tuwaitha last month, but only to make an inventory of uranium inside part of the nuclear facility, not in the surrounding communities. They were refused permission to inventory any of the 400 highly radioactive sources known to have been at Tuwaitha before the conflict.

Greenpeace has been surveying the villages around Tuwaitha for the past three weeks and has found frightening levels of radioactivity including:

  • a huge uranium "yellowcake" mixing canister with about 4-5 kilos of powder still inside, left open and abandoned on a field near a village
  • radioactivity in a series of houses, including one source measuring 10,000 times above normal
  • another source outside a 900 pupil primary school measuring 3,000 times above normal
  • locals who are still storing radioactive barrels and lids in their houses
  • a smaller radioactive source abandoned in a nearby field
  • consistent and repeated stories of unusual sickness after coming into contact with material from the Tuwaitha plant
  • numerous objects, carrying radioactive symbols, discarded in the community
None of this nuclear material is prohibited by UN resolutions or is usable for nuclear weapons.

The community near Tuwaitha is suffering a nuclear disaster that would be tolerated nowhere else in the world. Even the US military's own radiation expert in Iraq agrees that a major decontamination and health screening programme is urgently needed.

"I would recommend the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the World Health Organisation get involved and do an assessment. They've got involved in other instances like in Brazil where sources have ended up being distributed in the community and they actually assessed the risks from that. The faster it happens the better," said Lt. Col Mark Melanson, radiation expert and head of the US Military Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine unit in Iraq, in a Greenpeace interview.

When we we spoke with Dr Emad Aldin, Health Physicist, Iraq Atomic Energy Commission, he agreed: "To deal with this crisis and to solve this problem and pass through this mess we need all the help from the United States as the occupying force, and the international organisations like the IAEA and the WHO. If these efforts are united that will solve the problem as quickly as we hope."