Iraq: Nuclear contamination in northern province of Ninevah?

News and Press Release
Originally published
BAGHDAD, 16 November 2008 (IRIN) - Fears are growing in the northern province of Ninevah, about 400km north of Baghdad, of a possible radiation leak and contamination from a former nuclear plant.

According to two local officials, the plant - which was built in the early 1980s by a group of European and Russian companies for the government of former president Saddam Hussein - is suspected of causing a number of cancers and deformities among babies and adults.

"The province's health authorities have registered a number of deformities among newborns as well as a number of cancers among adults. The health authorities suspect that a radiation leak and contamination from a former nuclear plant is the cause of the deformities and cancers," Governor Duraid Kashmola said.

About four years ago, the abandoned Edayah nuclear plant, about 35km west of Ninevah's provincial capital, Mosul, was looted by locals; some of its radiation-contaminated materials were sold in the local market as scrap, according to Kashmola.

He said that on 23 September Iraqi teams fenced off the nuclear site and started dumping all its recovered materials there. "We expect to finish the work soon and thereby stop any possible radiation," Kashmola told IRIN.

Over 10,000 at risk

However, Abdul-Majid al-Nuaimi, head of the provincial health and environment committee, said 10,000-12,000 villagers living near the plant could still be at risk and that an international effort was needed to assist them.

"The villagers still have some of the plant's contaminated materials, such as barrels, utensils, basins, metal pipes, iron rods and sanitary appliances. We also fear rainwater could have exacerbated soil contamination," al-Nuaimi said.

He said that the locals have suffered a number of health conditions besides cancer, such as deformities, bulged eyes, arthritis, loss of hair and changed skin colour.

On its part, al-Nuaimi said the health and environment committee had made appeals in the media for residents to return any looted materials, had held a meeting to raise awareness and had erected warning signs near the site, according to al-Nuaimi.

The Edayah nuclear facility was bombed by US-led forces in the 1991 Gulf War. Subsequently, it was frequently visited by UN weapons inspectors who ordered its closure and the burial of all parts and equipment.

However, during the chaos of the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, locals dug up the site and sold the previously buried items on the market. Tests conducted by al-Nuaimi's committee show they contain uranium hydroxide and other radiation materials that are sufficiently radioactive to pose a risk to human health.

"This issue needs international attention. as huge areas could be affected. including neighbouring countries," al-Nuaimi said.