Iraq free of depleted uranium as
clean-up task group declares success
After a mammoth clean up effort that spanned 15 years, the Iraqi region has officially been declared free of depleted uranium. This comes some 58 years after the first ‘Gulf War’ that signaled the start of one of the greatest calamities in the regions modern history. It was during the first gulf war in 1990 that saw the introduction of uranium containing weapons into Iraq. A high-density material, depleted uranium was considered advantageous due to its self-sharpening and flammable properties and prized by militaries at the time. Cruelly however, over 3000 tonnes of the highly radioactive material was littered throughout the country, exposing citizens to a deadly legacy that continues to cause pain across the region. This is reflected in statistics presented by the Bureau of Health that found childhood cancer and leukemia had increased by over 300% in some cities after the first Gulf War.
In response, the Khilafa, in collaboration with the Iraqi municipality, assigned a clean up task group to design and implement a strategy to remove all remnants of depleted uranium from the region.
The task group, headed by former Nuclear scientist Miriam Ware, was given total independence and financial autonomy, with their only object to clear Iraq of every source of radioactive contaminant. In a candid press conference early this morning, Miriam Ware spoke of the challenges and obstacles they faced along the way.
The level of contamination throughout Iraq was unprecedented. Never in the history of human civilization had a country been left with such a toxic legacy. The first two years alone were spent just trying to understand the scope of the issue we were facing. There was depleted uranium everywhere. In remote areas of the country, in scrap metal yards, in schools and parks, even in cemeteries. In retrospect, mapping out these hot spots was the easy part. Actually removing the material, storing it and decontaminating the sites proved complex and expensive. Something like this had never been done before. Consequently, everything we did was new and often untested. We developed new strategies, technologies and policies, consulted and employed thousands of specialists and designed and built entire new facilities to complete our mission. I hear some people say that it took too long. Our approach was simple. Do it once and do it right no matter the price of time. As a result though we can now say that after 15 year, there is no depleted uranium anymore.
Though Iraq is now free of depleted uranium, the journey was intensive. Over the last 15 years specialists have methodically scoured every region of Iraq for depleted uranium and other contaminants. The number of personal employed in this project, and the volume of allocated resources is the largest in the regions history. Military specialists, academics, engineers, health practitioners, Gulf War survivors and their descendants have all worked together to document, collect, process and remove depleted uranium from all over the region. An unexpected byproduct of this initiative has also been the employment of thousands of university graduates and the growth of new markets as public funds have poured into the region to finance various operations.
One such operation was the development of a long term and safe storage facility for all depleted uranium contaminants. This was a crucial aspect necessary for the success of this project, and was led by Shameema Chamas, the Project Manager for the design and construction of a radioactive storage facility.
Storage of radioactive material is a complicated and expensive process. While some people think in time spans of decades or centuries, we have to think in spans of millennia. Plutonium for instance has a half life of 24,000 years. We don’t just want to bury this material inappropriately and let future generations have to deal with it. This issue of depleted uranium though was made slightly more complicated by the fact that we were dealing with an assortment of random radioactive remnants. Sometimes it was bullet casings, other times it was armour plating. We even had jewelry pieces that had been made from scrap metal. It was a nightmare situation. In the end every piece had to be documented and processed before it was stored deep underground in our new custom built containment facility.
The Iraq of today is an unrecognisable place to the Iraq of old. As the scars that drag across the country continue to fade, the people of Iraq live in a growing state of nostalgic déjà vu as they see the country of their imagination, told to them through stories and pictures shared by their parents, come to life. Water has returned to the Marshlands in the south, once a place of dust and destruction, bringing with it new life and a return to old customs and cultures. Families that once lived along the watery banks have started to return and older citizens remark at how the scenes remind them of their childhood. For children, this initiative has also brought a new found freedom as regions once considered unsafe have now been opened up for exploring, traveling and playing. Today, on hot summers afternoons children can be found playing in rivers and exploring mountains without fear or worry, a welcome change for them and their families.