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Fears of Radiation Leak

Adel Kamal
A few months after US troops invaded Iraq in 2003 a Ninawa citizen informed the local administration that radiation-contaminated steel utensils were being sold in Mosul’s markets. This citizen called on the…
30.10.2008  |  Mosul

Yet, despite submitting official documents from his time as an employee of the Adayah nuclear plant, west of Mosul, showing that the contaminated utensils had been dug up, no action was taken.

Today, fears are growing that the dangerous radiation may be spreading.

Adayah is administratively part of Mahlabiyah district, 35 km to the west of Mosul city. During the 1980s a nuclear plant was established in the area. But, following strikes on the site during the 1991 war and subsequent visits by UN weapons inspectors, all the material and equipment used at the site was buried and the plant closed.

In 2005, however, local people dug up the site and took the buried materials to be sold in Mosul’s scrap markets. Tests conducted by the environment directorate proved that these materials contained uranium hydroxide used in nuclear facilities. This was the first official warning of the possibility of nuclear radiation from the Adayah site.

Some days later, the former governor of Ninawa provincial council, Major General Salem al-Haj Issa, demanded that the government act to prevent a “disaster”. In his statement, he stressed that “health institutions in the area have discovered the spread of cancerous diseases and congenital deformities among the newborn.”

Now, fear of nuclear radiation haunts the people of Mosul with new statistics revealed by doctors confirming an increase in the numbers of people suffering skin and cancer diseases. In an emergency meeting held at Ninawa province to discuss the matter, Ninawa’s environment director said that the number of cancerous diseases has risen by two third compared to previous years.

Majeed Rasheed al-Nuaimi, head of Ninawa’s health committee, confirmed to Niqash that the figures were correct and said that a crisis group was formed in August 2008 to deal with the issue. The investigations have revealed “the existence of deposition basins of radioactive heavy water usually used in nuclear facilities,” he said. “Information collected during the last two years from the site, indicates that 370 barrels of nuclear waste were secretly transported to the site and buried there prior to the second Gulf War of 1991.” He said that other burial sites may also exist.

Al-Nuaimi did not hide his concerns, stressing that “investigations are expanding and government and international intervention will perhaps be needed because the dangers may affect huge areas. They may even impact areas beyond Iraq’s borders and extending to neighboring countries.”

An official source in Ninawa’s environment department, speaking on conditions of anonymity, told Niqash that “the dangers of radioactive materials may remain in the region for thousands of years.” The source revealed that “hundreds of barrels, utensils, basins, metal pipes and iron rods used in construction and sanitary appliances were extracted by villagers who live near the site after the fall of the regime. Some of the materials found their way to the markets. They are all contaminated by dangerous radioactive materials and will pose serious risks in the future.”

To date the crisis group has met with various experts and officials in an attempt to contain the emergency. They have also investigated the possible existence of several contaminated pipes which are said to be used in village water networks. According to al-Nuaimi, the “crisis group ordered technical committees to close the holes. The operation started on October 26 and will be concluded within a maximum of 20 days.”

However, according to the source at Ninawa environment department not enough is being done. He said that certain steps are urgently required, including “fencing off the whole area, putting up warning signs, warning villagers against grazing their animals in this area, fixing ruptures in the water basins to prevent leakages, using the media to spread awareness among citizens to return utensils and pipes taken from the site and investigating where these materials are stored in order to collect them and bury them in a scientific way.”

Al-Nuaimi agrees that all the materials urgently need to be tracked down and reburied in sealed drums according to international standards.

Touring the local village, Niqash spoke to one inhabitant who said that he contracted a skin disease after using a pipe stolen from Adayah in 2003. Observers now fear that unless urgent action is taken many others may also suffer radiation-linked diseases.