Greenpeace response to International Atomic Energy Agency report on Iraq radiation contamination

Press release - 16 July, 2003

Greenpeace scientist Dr. Rianne Teule measures radioactive levels of a device from the nearby Tuwaitha nuclear facility. The device, abandoned on a roadside, contains yellow powder that is 1000 times background levels of radiation.

The International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) report released today is astounding in what it doesn't say. Its brevity fails to reflect the scale of the problem in Iraq.

"If true, that only 10kg of radioactive uranium has been dispersed in the communities around Iraq's giant Tuwaitha nuclear complex near Baghdad, that is to be welcomed. But, the site contained as many as 400 much more deadly radiation sources, in the form of highly radioactive 'industrial isotopes'. It is a scandal that the IAEA has not been permitted to check that inventory. Some of the isotopes could be deadly to human health and also present a significant 'dirty bomb' threat if the fall into the wrong hands," warned Mike Townsley, of Greenpeace International, who has just returned from a month long investigation into contamination around Tuwaitha. (1)

The IAEA is unable to give a clear picture of the depth of the problem in Iraq because of the failure of the Occupying Powers to give them a full mandate to survey, secure and decontaminate the community in addition to the secured areas of the Tuwaitha facility that they were permitted to check. (2)

Their remit was restricted to counting what remains of the reported 500 tonnes of uranium that was held at Tuwaitha. No permission was given to account for the "industrial isotopes".

A Greenpeace radiation investigation team spent three weeks surveying the communities around Tuwaitha from mid June, returning to Europe one week ago, among their findings in the local community where three industrial isotopes. In the course of their survey they found:

- a major radioactive source inside a house, measuring 10,000 time above normal

- a second large radioactive source outside a primary school measuring 3,000 times above normal

- a large mixing canister, containing approximately 4 kilos of uranium yellow cake dumped on open ground near a village

- numerous discarded pieces of radioactive material and containers scattered throughout the community

- villagers that have come into contact with radioactivity, but have no access to medical care or assessment

- reports from local doctors indicating an unusually high instance of patients reporting symptoms consistent with radiation exposure

Given the finding of the Greenpeace team, a full IAEA inspection team should be allowed to return to Iraq, in conjunction with the World Health Organisation with a full mandate to survey, secure and decontaminate the local communities and implement a full health screening programme. It is a demand that is supported by the US military's own radiation expert in Iraq Lt. Col Mark Melanson. (3)

Greenpeace has written to Paul Bremer, the head of the civil administration in Iraq, who is responsible for public health in the country, also to Kofi Annan and the full Security Council, repeating the demands and also pointing out that a failure to so would constitute a breach of the Geneva Convention on Human Rights. None has responded.

Notes: (1) "The radioactive sources, some very potent ones, could get on to the black market and into the hands of terrorists planning dirty-bomb attacks," said Melissa Fleming, an IAEA spokeswoman. Guardian Wednesday May 14, 2003.(2) "Since early April we observed almost daily media reports of looting that took place at the Tuwaitha complex and a large number of reports of individuals that were treated in hospitals with symptoms similar to radiation sickness and so we became concerned and indicated that something be done to determine what if any implications that were for the health in that area. The US government informed us that they would take responsibility for this matter and so our assistance were not required." Mark Gwozdecky, IAEA speaking on 2Vandaag (Dutch TV News 9 July 2003)(3) "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." Lt. Col Mark Melanson - radiation expert and head of the US Military Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine unit in Iraq, interviewed by Greenpeace and CNN, 24th June 2003