Iraq completes removal of radioactive contamination from seven sites

A UN inspector works at the Tuwaitha storage site near Baghdad in 2003. [Chris Helgren/Reuters]

A UN inspector works at the Tuwaitha storage site near Baghdad in 2003. [Chris Helgren/Reuters]

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Seven demolished sites showing high levels of radiation have been successfully decontaminated in Iraq, the Iraqi Environment Ministry announced Wednesday (March 14th).

The ministry's Centre for the Prevention of Radiation supervised the removal of radioactive contamination at seven sites that the Ministry of Science and Technology had been cleaning up since 2009, said Deputy Environment Minister Kamal Hassan Latif.

The decontamination process included removing radioactive debris, designating a 25-meter radius around each contaminated area to observe radioactivity levels, and analysing the soil at each site to confirm it is free of radioactive material, he said.

The sites include facilities that were used in Iraq's nuclear programme under former President Saddam Hussein. The Ministry of Science and Technology has been demolishing and clearing these sites of radioactive contamination with help from government and international agencies.

"The demolished sites included the Tahrir Tower building [formerly the Turkish Restaurant] in central Baghdad, the Nahrain flour mill in the Taji area, the Qusaiba electric power station, and the Zubair hospital site in Basra," Latif said.

Other sites included the pioneering unit of the State Company for Geological Surveys and Mining, two sites at Jurf al-Nadaf that belong to the State Company for Seeds, and the National Centre for the Management of Water Resources in Baghdad's Gerayat area.

"Radioactive contaminants were removed from all seven sites in accordance with standards set by the International Atomic Energy Agency and in a way that meets radiation safety requirements," said Fuad al-Musawi, deputy minister for research and development at the Ministry of Science and Technology.

"Included among those sites were demolished nuclear facilities such as the pioneering unit site in the Andalus area of Baghdad, which specialized in the production of yellow cake. It was cleaned, and its radioactive materials were removed entirely," he said. "The facility was handed over to the State Company for Geological Surveys, which is part of the Ministry of Industry."

Al-Musawi said ten other demolished nuclear sites are currently being decontaminated by the ministry.

The ministry "is trying to phase out all the [contaminated] sites with a long-term strategy that stretches over 15 years," he said. "We have agreements with several organisations and states to help Iraq develop its human resources and secure the equipment that is needed for removal of nuclear waste."

In Iraq, there are a total of 39 sites with facilities designated as contaminated with varying degrees of radioactivity. Most are located in Baghdad, Basra, Maysan, and Muthana provinces, officials said.

Habib al-Tarfy, a member of the Iraqi parliament's health and environment committee, said the committee is tracking efforts made by the environment and science ministries regarding the cleanup of radioactive contaminants.

"We are in regular communication with officials in both ministries regarding investigation of any site suspected of being contaminated, such as the Husseiniya River site," he said. "We recently proved [that site's] soil was free of radiation."