EU and Iraq sign deal on nuclear disposal

Published online 11 February 2013

Adel Fakhir

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Iraq's government is to build a facility for disposing nuclear waste using funds from a European Union (EU) grant.

The announcement, by Fouad al-Moussawi, chairman of the Iraqi National Commission for Atomic Energy puts an end to speculation that the facility would be used to dispose of nuclear waste from European countries and makes clear that the site is only for Iraq's own waste.

The facility will be built at the site of an old decommissioned nuclear plant in Tuwaitha, south-east of Baghdad. Al-Moussawi says it will be built by French company Andra, though Nature Middle East was unable to get confirmation from the company itself.

The decision comes after an agreement between the EU and Iraq signed at the end of 2012 under which the EU will grant Iraq €2.6 million (US$3.47 million) to design the project and offer advice on how best to handle waste safely. The funding to build the facility will come from the annual budget of the Iraqi Ministry of Science and Technology.

It had been thought, until recently, that the radioactive material would be buried as landfill, but experts, including Jawad Albazony, a member of the Iraqi parliament's health and environment committee, had raised concerns. "Nuclear landfills pose a significant threat to human life," he said. "Its risks extend for thousands of years, and we are especially worried it may leak to underground water sources."

Albazony welcomed the decision to not bury the waste underground, but was insistent on the highest building and design standards, and on rigorous maintenance to ensure that no leakage ever occurs. "The facility must be built according to international standards," he said, "and it must be kept under constant supervision."

Iraq's Ministry of Science and Technology said the facility will be based on EU design recommendations.

The Iraqi-EU agreement follows an earlier one in 2009 to train personnel working in the field of decommissioning nuclear facilities and radioactive waste management.

"We have since taken a series of measures to ensure the complete decommissioning of the old nuclear sites in Iraq," said Abdul Karim Al Samarrai, the Iraqi minister of science and technology.