Greenpeace activist William Peden of Scotland tries to convince a US soldier of the 1st Armored Division to accept back a canister (behind) containing 'yellow cake' or Uranium Oxide which was looted during the war from the nuclear facility in Tuwaitha, 50 kilometers south of Baghdad, Tuesday, June 24, 2003. The canister was found by the environmentalist group Greenpeace in the village near the facility and allegedly is contaminated. Following the fall of Saddam Hussein, residents living near the complex reportedly took barrels of nuclear materials known as 'yellow cake' and other containers for use to store food and water and unaware that the barrels were radioactive and toxic. The canister was eventually brought into the facility. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)
Published on Tuesday, June 24, 2003 by Agence France-Presse
Greenpeace Says "Frightening" Radioactivity in Iraqi Villages
TUWAITHA, Iraq - Environmental group Greenpeace called on the US-led coalition governing Iraq to clean up villages surrounding a nuclear site outside Baghdad that have been contaminated by "frightening levels" of radioactive material.
Carrying Arabic and English banners that read "Al-Tuwaitha - nuclear disaster. Act now!", Greenpeace activists returned a large uranium "yellowcake" mixing canister to US troops stationed inside the nuclear plant, 20 kilometres (12 miles) east of the capital.
The canister -- the size of a small car -- contained significant quantities of radioactive yellowcake and had been left open and unattended for more than 20 days on a busy section of open ground near the Tuwaitha plant, Greenpeace said Tuesday.
"No one cares about us. We are dying slowly. Our whole neighborhood is contaminated. Although Greenpeace came, it is too late," said Tareq al-Obeidi, a 41-year-old Tuwaitha city council member.
"We need medicine and good hospitals. Removing it from the garbage is just the beginning of our long suffering," he said.
Greenpeace said there were three kilograms (6.6 pounds) worth of yellowcake -- slightly enriched uranium -- inside the mixer looted following the ouster of Saddam Hussein's regime.
"It is a disgrace that occupying forces can say they are taking care of human health here in Iraq and they can still allow this to lie open on the ground where children can play in it," said Greenpeace spokeswoman Sara Holden.
Greenpeace said in a statement released in Baghdad that "if this had happened in the UK, the US or any other country, the villages around Tuwaitha would be swarming with radiation experts and decontamination teams.
"It would have been branded a nuclear disaster site and the people given immediate medical check-ups."
Much of the material was looted from the facility by villagers who used it for house building and water and food storage, according to Greenpeace International official Mike Townsley.
During a week-long survey, Greenpeace said it had uncovered radioactivity in a number of buildings, including one source measuring 10,000 times above normal and another, outside a 900-pupil primary school, measuring 3,000 times above normal.
Locals were still storing radioactive barrels and lids in their houses, several objects carrying radioactive symbols lie discarded in the community, and there are "consistent and repeated stories of unusual sickness after coming into contact with material from the Tuwaitha plant," the statement said.
Greenpeace said the preliminary survey "highlights the total failure of the occupying forces to address the urgent need for a full assessment, containment and clean up of missing nuclear material from the Tuwaitha nuclear facility."
The environmental group accused the coalition of refusing so far to allow experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to carry out proper documentation and decontamination in Iraq.
"The Greenpeace team has only been surveying for eight days and has discovered frightening levels of radioactive contamination," said Townsley.
"The IAEA must be allowed to return with a full mandate to monitor and decontaminate. They may believe they have accounted for most of the uranium, but what about the rest of the radioactive material?"