This page has been archived, and may no longer be up to date

Trip to Iraq

Page - April 11, 2006

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 country.

The Problem

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..."