The shell of former Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein’s efforts to produce a nuclear bomb is being slowly dismantled along the banks of the Tigris River, but its radioactive legacy lingers on.
The Tuwaitha research complex, about 18 kilometers (11 miles) southeast of Baghdad, was bombed by Israel in its 1981 airstrike on Iraq’s Tammuz 1 research reactor. It was bombed again during the Persian Gulf War of 1991, and it was looted extensively after the 2003 U.S. invasion that ousted Hussein.
Now, engineers and technicians are working to dismantle the laboratories and equipment at the site, but the extensive contamination left behind complicates their work.
“It is difficult because of the destruction,” said Anwar Ahmed, the project manager at Tuwaitha. “This facility was bombed in 1991. Now, finally the decision was made to decommission all the destroyed facilities.”
Workers and visitors have to wear protective suits and masks around the facility, where about 20 people are at work so far. Iraq’s ministry of Science and Technology said it is training more specialists to decommission the facility, but acknowledged the cleanup could take decades.