Greenpeace documented looters in abandoned hangar at Tuwaitha nuclear centre in Iraq in June 2003.
When US troops rolled into Baghdad, they ensured that the oil
ministry was immediately under guard. In the south, oil pipelines
and wells were surrounded with armoured vehicles.
Yet in Tuwaitha, where Saddam Hussein's nuclear research was
conducted, a site previously sealed by the UN International Atomic
Energy Agency (IAEA) and containing nuclear equipment and materials
had not a single soldier outside its door. Local residents took
what they could, including barrels to use for cooking and water
storage that they simply emptied of their uranium yellowcake
We sent a mission to Iraq in June of 2003 to evaluate the extent
of contamination and to call for the US and the UN to take
immediate action to secure and clean up the site. We brought new
barrels for the local residents to swap for their contaminated
ones. We took measurements in people's homes, in one case finding
radiation levels 10,000 times above background.
wrote to Kofi Annan in July 2003 about our concerns and
submitted our findings to Mohamed ElBaradei in a
ten-page report and video documentary in July of 2004, when the
US allowed a limited inspection of the site by the IAEA. Nuclear
expert John Large commented in the report that the evidence
presented by us suggested to him "that a considerable amount of
radioactive material and contamination has been removed from the
secure areas of the Tuwaitha Nuclear Centre."
Our letter to ElBaradei listed the materials we found, where we
found them, and stated
"Greenpeace is seriously concerned that the looting of the
Tuwaitha facility had been so extensive by the time our team
arrived, that it will be virtually impossible for a team of
inspectors to reconstruct the radioactive inventory prior to the
invasion. And these concerns have been considerably exacerbated in
the last weeks following the revelation that the US has airlifted
considerable quantities of nuclear material from the area without
"Nuclear material from Iraq has been found in both the
Netherlands and Turkey, showing that nuclear material can and does
leave the country."
the contamination stays in Tuwaitha.
Greenpeace spokesperson Mike Townsley said at the time of our
inspection "If this had happened in the UK, the US or any other
country, the villages around Tuwaitha would be swarming with
radiation experts and decontamination teams. It would have been
branded a nuclear disaster site and the people given immediate
medical check-ups. The people of Iraq deserve no less from the
international community. That they are being ignored is a scandal
that must be rectified without delay."
Nothing has been done to date. And in their response to our
warning about vanishing inventories, the best the IAEA could say
"The Agency has offered the Iraqi authorities advice on the
safety and security of nuclear and other radioactive material.
However, the Agency's assistance is based on requests, and, in line
with the Agency's confidentiality regime, the Agency can only
publish protected information with the consent of the concerned
State or States. Some of your enquiries and suggestions may
therefore more appropriately be directed to the Iraqi Interim
Government [...] At this stage, it is important that IAEA
inspectors return to Iraq..."
The interim government has also done nothing, the IAEA is still
banned from Iraq by American fiat, and the only winners in this
story are those who are looking to capitalise on security failures
by scoring loose nukes.
What was it all for?
invasion of Iraq was supposed to be about stopping weapons of mass
destruction. It was supposed to be about stopping nuclear materials
from getting out from under UN control. Was the failure to secure
Tuwaitha a result of incompetence, or evidence of the real priority
of securing Iraq's oil supply?
Either way, the world is a more dangerous place as a result.
For a would-be terrorist, the menu of options for securing
nuclear material is getting longer and longer. If you don't feel
like picking up some enriched Uranium to make a dirty bomb from
Iraq, you can find a
lightly guarded truck in France containing Plutonium, or a
shipload of weapons-grade material on the high seas from the
The only way to ensure nuclear materials don't end up in the
wrong hands is for everyone to give them up.
You don't need a satellite monitoring system to witness the
looting of nuclear materials and the disassembly of buildings in
Iraq. We videotaped the incidents mentioned in ElBaradei's report,
and you can see them yourself by clicking below:
Letter to Kofi Annan
Letter to Mohamed ElBaradei
Large Associates Analysis of Greenpeace findings
You can also read about Greenpeace's experience in Iraq in the blog of the