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Tuesday, May 30, 2023
VIENNA, May 28 2003 (IPS) - The IAEA is sending a team of seven inspectors to Iraq this week to investigate reports of illnesses around the Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Centre south of Baghdad.
”We are disturbed at media reports that people around the nuclear facility area are being treated by doctors with symptoms of shortness of breath, nausea, severe nosebleeds and itchy rashes,” IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) spokesman Mark Gwozdecky told IPS.
The centre is located just 20 kilometres south of Baghdad.
”We need to repackage, to reseal the drums containing nuclear materials,” Gwozdecky said. ”We have to make sure that the drums are not damaged and to check the exact level of radiation in the building.”
The team will leave by this weekend, he said.
Iraqi doctors have been quoted in the media as saying that they have seen many patients with worrying symptoms. This has led to fears that they could be suffering from acute radiation syndrome.
The IAEA, the international nuclear watchdog, had requested the U.S.-led coalition forces to allow its inspectors to return to Tuwaitha after television pictures of looting at the centre early April.
Iraqi forces from Saddam Hussein’s regime had deserted the site April 6, and looters soon moved in. U.S. forces moved in to guard the centre several days later. About 40 of them guard the 120-acre premises, according to reports the IAEA has received from Iraq.
Tuwaitha was once as heavily guarded as Saddam’s presidential palaces. But in the days of looting it lost even its main gates.
The Bush administration agreed last week to allow IAEA inspectors into the centre. But their access will be limited to just three buildings in the main complex known as Location C, the IAEA spokesman said.
”The inspectors will attend to safeguards issues,” the spokesman said. ”They will go and look at the damage done to the site by looters. They will find out exactly what is missing and what to do about it. So far we have only heard that the country’s largest nuclear site continues to be targeted by thieves but we do not know anything for sure.”
But the team is ”not going in search of weapons of mass destruction,” he said.
Some of the specialists on the team have inspected nuclear sites in Iraq before. They have spent months removing and destroying fuel and equipment linked to what was seen as Iraq’s clandestine nuclear weapons programme.
This time the inspectors will seek to match inventories with the materials and chemicals in storage. Iraq is obliged as a member of the NPT (Treaty on the Non- Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons) to allow the Agency to inspect its nuclear sites.
The reports from Iraq indicate that radiation levels at the building are higher than acceptable limits, and that it is dangerous to enter the building.
The material stored at Tuwaitha is the only known nuclear material in Iraq. It is stored in sealed barrels, and is believed to include 1.8 tonnes of low-enriched uranium and several tonnes of natural and depleted uranium. The centre was monitored by the IAEA with the cooperation of the Iraqi regime until March 2003.
Inspectors had neutralised much of the nuclear capacity at this site after the first Gulf war to prevent reconstruction and use of potentially dangerous facilities.
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