Iraq studying new plan on where to bury radioactive waste, says official

Governor of the southern city of Thi Qar, Yahya al-Nasiri, leads the way at a construction site. (Photo courtesy: Yahya al-Nasiri Facebook page)

Iraq’s government is studying how to get rid of its radioactive waste after many of the country’s provinces declined to have the toxic materials buried in their soil, an official told Al Arabiya News last week.

Most of the country’s vast deposits of radioactive materials are a legacy of the turbulent regime of former leader Saddam Hussein, and have built up over the last four decades. Other toxic materials can be found in the country’s graveyards of contaminated industrial equipment.

“The parliament has decided to study the situation again after other provinces [including Dhi Qar] rejected such decision,” said Yahya al-Nasiri, governor of the southern Dhi Qar province.

“The proposals suggest burying the waste outside the country or in the desert, as it is way from dwellers, but this too [latter] will affect the soil,” he added.

Asked if there are other ways to dispose of the waste, he said “it could possibly be buried in the sea using special containers or be sent to countries willing to take it, in exchange for money.”

While Nasiri said other provinces have rejected a similar request, Dhi Qar’s provincial council voted against the Iraqi parliament’s proposal in early July to use some of the southern province’s land as a burial site for the radioactive pollutants coming from all other provinces of the country.

Dhi Qar’s health and environment committee head Abdulamir Salim at the time slammed the proposal and said it posed a “real threat to the health and security of the province’s citizens.”

Nasiri said he “doesn’t know the justifications for such request” when he was asked why Dhi Qar was mainly chosen to bury the radioactive waste, he dubbed as “poisonous” and “hard to deal with.”

But he said Dhi Qar for the past three years has strived in getting rid the province from these pollutants especially it had specified a quota in its budget to do so.

“Dhi Qar for the past three years has been active by working with the relevant ministries such as health and environment to lift these waste radioactive, maybe that’s why they chose Dhi Qar to bury these wastes,” he said.

He added: “Dhi Qar is the most environmentally qualified province to be pollutant-free.”

Incessant wars

An official Iraqi study in 2010 found more than 40 sites across the country that were contaminated with high levels or radiation and dioxins.

Iraq “without doubt” suffers from these radioactive pollutants inherited from “continuous wars” starting in the 1980s Iraqi-Iran war to the Gulf War in 1990s till 2003, when the United States used highly advanced weapons - including depleted uranium - in its efforts to topple Hussein’s regime, the governor lamented.

“As a result of these wars, these waste produced exacerbated people’s health including high rates of cancer,” he added.

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However, it is not only war-produced pollutants that harm people’s health in Iraq – in addition, there is a lack of quality controls imposed on imported goods.

Radioactive material is also “the result of imports of car parts from Japan to the province,” he added.

“We worked to eliminate these wastes from the province and bury it in areas specialized for these radioactive material.”

Areas around Iraqi cities such as Najaf, Basra and Fallujah accounted for more than 25 percent of the contaminated sites, with the southern city of Basra – the frontline during Iran-Iraq war and the Gulf War – having 11 sites, according to the 2010 study.

The study, carried out by the environment, health and science ministries found that scrap metal yards in and around the capital Baghdad and Basra contain high levels of ionizing radiation, which is thought to come from depleted uranium used in munitions during the first Gulf war and since the 2003 invasion.

“The U.S. army unfortunately caused an increase in these radioactive material by using uranium and its advanced arms that use a lot of harmful radioactive material,” Nasiri said. “But the U.S. army did not help nor support our projects to get rid of these pollutants.”

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:45 - GMT 06:45
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