Greenpeace takes Tuwaitha radiation to heart of U.S.
administration in Iraq
Baghdad, Iraq, July 4th 2003 - Greenpeace activists today brought the head of the US civil administration in Iraq, Paul Bremer, a container of radioactive uranium 'yellowcake', found abandoned in the community outside the Tuwaitha nuclear facility, urging him to allow the return of inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to carry out a full survey and decontamination of Iraq.
Activists from the international environmental organisation brought the 'yellowcake' to the Office of Rehabilitation and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA) - now located in one of Saddam Hussein's palaces in Baghdad - and challenged Mr Bremer to accept responsibility for it and for the rest of the radioactive material that is contaminating the environment and threatening public health.
The US Administration insists there is no danger or health risk to the villages, despite evidence of widespread radioactive contamination in the area, after the facility was left unsecured at the end of the war and was subsequently looted.
"The radioactive material we have brought to Paul Bremer is just a fraction of what the people of Tuwaitha have had to live with for months," said Mike Townsley of Greenpeace. "Bremer is responsible for public health in Iraq, he must immediately step aside and allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to do its job."
The US Administration allowed the IAEA into Tuwaitha last month, but only to make an inventory of uranium inside part of the nuclear facility, not in the surrounding communities. They were refused permission to inventory any of the 400 highly radioactive sources known to have been at Tuwaitha before the conflict.
Greenpeace has been surveying the villages around Tuwaitha for the past three weeks and has found frightening levels of radioactivity including:
a huge uranium 'yellowcake' mixing canister with about 4-5 kilos of powder still inside, left open and abandoned on a field near a village;
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 house;
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;
numerous objects, carrying
radioactive symbols, discarded in the community
None of this nuclear material is prohibited by UN resolutions or is usable for nuclear weapons.
"This community is suffering a nuclear disaster that would be tolerated nowhere else in the world," said Townsley. "Even the US military's own radiation expert in Iraq agrees that a major decontamination and health screening programme is urgently needed (1) as does the Iraq Atomic Energy Commission (2). The 'yellowcake' sample we have given Bremer today is safely contained - but who knows how much is still left unsecured and unsafe in the community," he said.
Notes to Editors:
(1) "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, interviwed by Greenpeace, 24th June 2003
(2) "To deal with this crisis and to solve this problem and pass through this mess we need all the help from the United States as the occupying force, and the international organisations like the IAEA and the WHO. If these efforts are united that will solve the problem as quickly as we hope." Dr Emad Aldin, Health Physicist, Iraq Atomic Energy Commission, interviewed by Greenpeace July1st 2003
Two members of the Greenpeace team are maintaining a weblog diary 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
Letter sent to Paul Bremer, Head of the US civil administration in Iraq.
Baghdad, July 4th 2003
Dear Mr Bremer,
As the head of the US Civil Authority in Iraq, we would like to draw your attention to the nuclear contamination and public health problems around the Al Tuwaitha facility near Baghdad.
You have been quoted as saying you are responsible for public health in Iraq and there is no immediate problem around Tuwaitha. We believe this portrays a dangerous failure to adequately appraise the threat and to meet you obligations to protect the health of those who live around Iraq's nuclear sites. We urge you to immediately meet your obligation to protect public health by calling on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to mount a urgent investigation into radioactive contamination around Al-Tuwaitha and to prepare a remediation plan.
A Greenpeace investigation team has been conducting a basic a survey of the villages around Al Tuwaitha for three weeks and has uncovered frightening levels of contamination, including:
* a huge uranium yellowcake mixing canister, with approximately 4 kilos of the powder still inside, abandoned and unsealed on open ground where children play
* 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 yellow cake 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
* numerous objects carrying radioactive symbols discarded in the community
* an increase in reports of illnesses with symptoms consistent with radiation poisoning, but the local doctors do not have the correct equipment to test their patients.
While the job of running the civil administration in Iraq must be a huge one at this time, we believe there is sufficient evidence, collected by us and reported in the local community, for you to urgently re-assess your view that there is no health risk and prioritise action in this area.
Such action would not require any additional effort drawn upon your limited resources, rather you could request the immediate return of the International Atomic Energy Agency to Iraq to conduct a comprehensive survey, health assessment and decontamination of the communities around Al Tuwaitha and any other nuclear sites in the country that may be contaminated.
We are not alone in this view. Your own military radiation expert, Lt Col Mark Melanson echoed the call in interviews with both our documentation team and CNN. He said "I would recommend the International Atomic Energy Agency and the World Health Organisation get involved and do an assessment. They've got involved in other instances like in Brazil where [radiation] sources have ended up being distributed in the community and they actually assessed the risks from that. The faster it happens the better."
The Iraq Atomic Energy Commission also supports the call. Dr Emad Aldin, a health physicist from the IAEC told Greenpeace in interview: "To deal with this crisis and to solve this problem and pass through this mess we need all the help from the United States as the occupying force, and the international organisations like the IAEA and the WHO. If these efforts are united that will solve the problem as quickly as we hope." Greenpeace would like to know why, when so many agencies and experts, including the IAEA themselves, have expressed the need to do an urgent assessment of what they fear could be a nuclear disaster, that ORHA is not only neglecting the protection of public health, but is also preventing the international community from meeting their obligations.
To date the IAEA have operated under restrictions that mean they could only inventory the uranium yellowcake barrels that were still in a small and secured part of Tuwaitha. They were not given the opportunity to inventory the 400 or so known radioactive sources that had been stored at the complex. They were also refused the opportunity to survey communities around Tuwaitha and other nuclear sites in Iraq and have not been able to give any health assessments of the communities.
Greenpeace is not asking your administration to add to it's workload by carrying out the job.
We do not believe your administration has the expertise. We believe the international experts, the IAEA, should be given the task which it has carried out in many other countries.
Dr Yasin Kamiz, the head of one of the major hospitals in the Tuwaitha area, does not have the equipment to make an accurate clinical assessment of the health impacts, but has seen a notable increase in the number of people with symptoms that could be radiation poisoning.
Yesterday he told Greenpeace "I want everybody in this world to help these poor people, who have suffered too much in the last twenty years. Don't let them suffer more and more in the coming days and years."
We hope you will treat this situation with the urgency it deserves and meet your obligation to protect public health without any further delay,
Yours, Mike Townsley