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Tackling Tuwaitha's Radioactive Ruins

18 April 2006
© IAEAThe remains of a nuclear research reactor at Tuwaitha. Like many former nuclear facilities in Iraq it needs decommissioning. Radioactive residues have left the area contaminated. It was severely damaged during air strikes in the 2003 war.Some of the dangers seem obvious.Others are not. Children of Ishtar village close to the Tuwaitha site live in an area contaminated by radioactive ruins. The levels of radiation are known to be higher than normal which could prove risky over time. The threat comes from breathing contaminated dust and ingesting the radioactive residues.The curious children watch through barbed-wire fence as American military personnel prepare to survey the site.Tuwaitha is one of a number of sites in Iraq identified in need of decommissioning. The contaminated rubble and crumbling buildings must be pulled down and the radioactive wastes safely disposed. The ultimate aim is to restore the land to its previous state.The Iraqi Government has requested the IAEA's assistance to prepare plans and programmes to decommission the former nuclear facilities in Iraq.A view from above. The former Tuwaitha nuclear site is some 20 kilometres south of Baghdad.Substantially higher than normal dose rates of radiation are detected at Tuwaitha's waste treatment and storage building.Tuwaitha was looted during the war in 2003 and barrels containing uranium concentrate, known as "yellow cake" were stolen. The barrels were emptied and sold to locals for storing drinking water or food, or to wash clothes.Radioactive waste in a storage facility.Records have been lost and the exact composition of material inside drums of waste is not always known. It is one of many challenges IAEA experts will face when they help Iraq to decommission the facilities and remediate the land.A fresh / spent fuel area.A buried tank. Radioactive materials and waste were also buried and their exact location may not always be known. It will be part of the IAEA's job to help Iraq identify and remediate such areas.Tuwaitha's radiochemistry laboratory. Concrete was poured inside this "glovebox" equipment to secure minute amounts of plutonium. It deters potential thieves but creates an added challenge when it comes time to clean up the site.Decommissioning Iraq's former nuclear sites is a huge and challenging task expected to take up to ten years. Among immediate steps is to identify and cordon off contaminated areas that pose a risk to the public.What remains of the Tammuz-Osiraq reactor facility. When the nuclear facilities were bombed it not only created radiological hazards but also industrial risks for potential clean-up crews.Neighbouring countries Jordan and Turkey are also feeling the effects, with contaminated scrap metal and radioactive sources pillaged from sites, turning up at their borders. Turkish authorities have told the IAEA of some 100 cases detected at one border crossing in the country alone.Two hot cells stand as stark reminders of what was once an isotope production facility.The radiation exposure from the Tuwaitha site presents little hazard for one time visitors. Concern is for the people of Ishtar who live near the contaminated site. Over time they could risk exposure to radiation levels higher than international safety standards.© IAEA© IAEA
Last update: 26 July 2017