Greenpeace activists mark a highly radioactive site outside a school with warnings in Arabic. The site registed 3000 times higher than background.
The Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Facility
Built in the1960s, the Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Facility is a
complex of more than100 buildings spread over a 35 square mile
site, located 18km SSE ofBaghdad. It used to be the heart of Iraq's
nuclear weapons programme.Past activities at the site included
several research reactors,plutonium separation and waste
processing, uranium metallurgy, neutroninitiator development and
work on number of methods of uraniumenrichment.
Following the 1991 Gulf War, the IAEA removed allknown Iraqi
stocks of weapons useable nuclear material, in accordancewith the
provisions of UN Security Council Resolution 687. All
otherradioactive material, including uranium was stored in sealed
barrels atTuwaitha and was checked once a year by the IAEA, under
the terms ofthe Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The IAEA says
that in December2002, 500 tonnes of "yellowcake" and 1.8 tonnes of
low-enriched uraniumremained at Tuwaitha, and hundreds of other
highly radioactive,industrial sources were still in the
WhenIraq fell under US control on 9 April 2003, the occupying
powers failedto properly secure Tuwaitha and other nuclear sites.
Occupying forcesalso failed to conduct an inventory of materials at
any of the sites.
Justone day later, on 10 April, the door of one storage area at
Tuwaithawas found breached. US forces were requested by the IAEA to
secure thestorage facility sometime after April 11 but, by May 3
when US forcesconducted a site survey, they were still letting
scores of "workers"enter and take whatever they liked. Seven sites
associated with Iraq'snuclear program have been visited by the
Pentagon's special nuclearprograms' teams since the war ended, and
all showed signs of "looting".
Residentsliving near Tuwaitha reportedly took barrels of nuclear
material, knownas "yellowcake", and other containers because they
needed them to storefood, water, milk and yoghurt. They were
unaware that the barrels wereradioactive and toxic and that they
were exposing themselves to severerisk. Witnesses report seeing
people carrying containers and emptyinglow-level radioactive
contents into the soil or local water supplies.Warning signs to the
local community were limited and only written inEnglish. Some of
the looted material is now being returned to thenearby mosque where
it is being stored but has not been contained.
Localdoctors are concerned that people are showing signs of
radiationsickness, such as bleeding and vomiting. Dr. Jaafar Nasser
Suhayb, whoruns a nearby clinic, said that over a five-day period
he treated about20 patients from the neighborhood near Tuwaitha for
similar symptoms:shortness of breath, nausea, severe nosebleeds and
itchy rashes. Suhaybis worried that the residents are suffering
from radiation poisoningbecause several of the symptoms are
consistent with those of acuteradiation syndrome.
The Greenpeace expedition
Wewent to Iraq in June 2003 to examine the local environment and
toassess the extent of any nuclear contamination. The team took
samplesof soil and water for laboratory analysis and conducted
on-sitemonitoring with specialist radiation detection equipment.
While theextent of the Greenpeace radiological survey was
comprehensive, it didprovide some idea of the true level of risk to
the people of the areaand to the environment.
Find out what we
discovered on our trip in June and July 2003
Onemember of the Iraq team writes, "How do you
tell someone they can'tstay in their own home anymore? How do you
look someone in the eye whenyou know that what little they have,
they should abandon, even thoughthey have nowhere else to go? We
had to do that today. Another daylooking for nightmares, another
day finding them..."