Radiation poisoning feared from Iraq looting
BAGHDAD: Doctors fear that hundreds of Iraqis are suffering from radiation poisoning after widespread looting of the country’s nuclear facilities.
Seven nuclear facilities have been damaged or effectively destroyed by ransackers since the end of the war last month. Technical documents, sensitive equipment and barrels containing radioactive material are thought to have been stolen.
Many residents in villages close to the huge Tuwaitha nuclear facility, about a dozen miles south of Baghdad, were exhibiting signs of radiation illness last week, including rashes, acute vomiting and severe nosebleeds. As Saddam Hussein’s regime collapsed last month, villagers began looting barrels of uranium oxide, known as “yellow cake,” from the site, which they then emptied to use to store water, milk and yogurt.
In Al Riyadh village, about a mile from the site, 13-year-old El Tifat Nasser fell ill after her brothers visited the facility a dozen times and returned with barrels.
“She is bleeding twice a day through her nose, and she is very sick,” said her mother, Sabieha Nasser, 48. “We are very worried.”
Local hospitals have seen an influx of patients complaining of similar symptoms. “A lot of people seem to be affected,” said one doctor. “It is deeply worrying.”
Villagers said Iraqi officials arrived recently with Geiger counters. One said the men had measured areas where locals had emptied the contents of stolen barrels. —LDT