by Greenpeace International –
BAGHDAD (June 24, 2003) — Greenpeace activists today confronted the occupying forces in Iraq with radioactive material collected near the Tuwaitha nuclear complex and called for a clean up of radioactive contamination of villages surrounding the plant, just south of Baghdad.
A convoy of vehicles bearing Greenpeace banners that read “Al Tuwaitha — Nuclear Disaster — Act Now!” and with a single activist walking at it’s head, carrying a white flag, are returning a large uranium “yellow cake” mixing canister to the US military guards stationed at the heart of the nuclear plant. The canister — the size of a small car — contained significant quantities of radioactive yellowcake. The contents had been dumped on a busy section of open ground near the Tuwaitha plant.
Despite the military being aware of its presence, locals say it has been left open and unattended for more than 20 days. “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,” said Mike Townsley of Greenpeace International.
Greenpeace radiation experts have found abandoned uranium yellowcake and radioactive sources scattered across the community. Much of the material was looted from the facility by villagers who used it for house building and water and food storage. They did not realize the potential danger.
In a week-long survey Greenpeace uncovered:
o 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
• another 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
• several objects carrying radioactive symbols discarded in the community
The preliminary survey and this morning’s action in front of heavily armed US troops, highlights the total failure of the occupying forces to address the urgent need for a full assessment, containment and clean up of missing nuclear material from the Tuwaitha Nuclear facility. (1)
The occupying forces have so far refused to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA, the UN’s nuclear experts) to carry out proper documentation and decontamination in Iraq. The US authorities in Baghdad have insisted upon retaining responsibility for protecting human health but consistently deny there is a risk to the local population. (2)
In the last two days, the IAEA itself has indicated, “most of the (uranium) material is accounted for.” (3) [Greenpeace has reached a different conclusion, however.]
“The Greenpeace team has only been surveying for eight days and has discovered frightening levels of radioactive contamination,” said Townsley. “The IAEA must be allowed to return with a full mandate to monitor and decontaminate. They may believe they have accounted for most of the uranium, but what about the rest of the radioactive material? If the inspectors are allowed to come out from the shadow of the occupying forces and into the community, they can do the job properly,” Townsley added.
(1) The Tuwaitha nuclear storage facility, south of Baghdad, was left unsecured by occupying forces after the fall of Saddam Hussein and was heavily looted. In contrast, oil pipelines and the oil ministry were immediately secured. Just days after the ceasefire, British Museum officials were brought in to reclaim stolen artifacts. It was nearly two months before IAEA inspectors were allowed to return.
(2) Washington Post, June 6th 2003 — “The US military has conducted an initial radiation survey in the villages, and a health study is set to begin in coming days. “There is no health risk to the population or the soldiers guarding the site,” said Mickey Freeland, part of the US team involved in the hunt for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.
(3) Mohamed ElBaradei, speaking in Jordan — Reuters, June 22, 2003.
(4) None of the material stored at Tuwaitha can be used for conventional nuclear weapons as all such components were removed by the International Atomic Energy Agency after the first Gulf War.
Two members of the Greenpeace team are maintaining a weblog of their mission to Iraq. You can review a history of the expedition to date and monitor live developments at http://weblog.greenpeace.org/iraq. For additional briefings on Tuwaitha, health impacts of radiation exposure, the risk of dirty‚ bombs and other information, please go to: http://www.greenpeace.org.