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Iraq decommissioning project

Prioritisation - overview and methodology

There are a number of sites in Iraq which have been used for nuclear activities and which contain significant amounts of radioactive material. The principal nuclear site is Al-Tuwaitha, the nuclear research centre which contains 18 facilities and radwaste locations, including research reactors, hot cells and waste treatment and storage facilities. There are a further 10 sites identified in the country which mainly processed and enriched uranium material. Many of these sites suffered substantial physical damage during the Gulf Wars of 1991 and have been subjected to subsequent looting. All require decommissioning and/or remediation in order to ensure both radiological and non-radiological safety.

However, it was not possible to undertake the decommissioning of all sites and facilities at the same time. Therefore a prioritization methodology was developed in order to aid the decision-making process. The process comprises three principal stages of assessment:

  • A quantitative surrogate risk assessment based primarily on radiological risk but also taking account of other risks
  • A range of sensitivity analyses to assess the robustness of the quantitative assessment, motivated by the present incomplete and uncertain data set on which the assessment is based
  • The inclusion of qualitative Other Modifying Factors, e.g social, political and pragmatic management inputs, which can have a significant influence on the prioritization ranking resulting from the above quantitative assessment.

The output from this methodology robustly identified and consistently ranked a group of Al-Tuwaitha Nuclear Centre facilities (including the two research reactors, the radiochemistry laboratory, the waste treatment station and the Russian silo facility) with the highest risk, followed by a middle ranking grouping of Al-Tuwaitha Nuclear Centre facilities and some other sites, and a relatively large group of lower risk facilities and sites.

However, the initial order of priority for undertaking dismantling and decommissioning work was crucially influenced by some of the Other Modifying Factors. In particular, given Iraq's isolation from the international nuclear community over the last two decades and the lack of experienced personnel, there was a need to build experience, expertise and confidence before intervening in the higher risk facilities. Given that no urgent and imminent escalation of risks was identified, it was therefore appropriate to initiate decommissioning on selected low risk facilities at Al-Tuwaitha Nuclear Centre in order to build capacity and prepare for work to be carried out in more complex and potentially high hazard facilities in due course.

Initial work programme

The initial prioritized work programme consisted of the following activities:

  • Dismantling and decommissioning of the LAMA facility at Al-Tuwaitha. There was an expectation that there is very low contamination and hence low volumes of active waste. This project allows for the development of decommissioning experience and expertise within a relatively safe environment
  • Decommissioning of the Geo-pilot Plant in the Geological Survey Institute in Baghdad. This is a relatively small facility with minimal uranium contamination
  • Preparation of oversight and contingency plans for liquid wastes at Al-Tuwaitha. These liquid wastes represent the greatest potential hazards to the environment, and although they are believed to be adequately contained at the moment it is nonetheless necessary to assess the options for stabilising and treating this waste so that appropriate action can be taken on the shortest timescale in the event of evidence of containment failure
  • Controlling the scrap material at Al-Tuwaitha. This project will monitor, sort, release where appropriate, and provide for interim storage of any contaminated material
  • Dismantling and decommissioning of the Italian Isotope Production Plant at Al-Tuwaitha. This project will continue the enhancement of decommissioning experience on a slightly more contaminated and complex facility


Current work programme

Significant progress has been made in the project on decommissioning former nuclear facilities in Iraq and the first practical decommissioning completed. The first project was to clear 65 000 square metres of the Al Tuwaitha site near Baghdad, specifically around the LAMA facility where radioactively contaminated scrap metal and rubble had been dumped from various locations in Iraq.  The final status survey of the second stage and the dismantling of the chimney (stage 3) were completed. The second project prioritized in the programme, decommissioning the former ‘GeoPilot’ plant used to produce hydrated yellowcake, was completed in 2009. The GeoPilot plant was released for industrial use during 2010. In the third project, the decommissioning of the Italian Radioisotopes Production Laboratory, the Iraqis characterized, segregated and containerized the contaminated rubble and scrap. Liquid waste tanks have been excavated and hot cells require further dismantlement. These projects have provided valuable learning experiences and have validated the decision to prioritize the more lightly contaminated facilities for early decommissioning.

MoST has submitted an overarching decommissioning plan to the regulatory body for approval and licensing. Planning has begun for the decommissioning of five facilities, including the IRT-5000 and Tammuz-2 research reactors for Phase 2 of the project (2011–2015). The development of site-specific decommissioning plans and supporting documents began in November 2011. A preliminary draft decommissioning plan for the Tammuz-2 research reactor and a preliminary remediation plan for the Adaya site were reviewed in late 2012 by the Radiation Protection Centre (as regulatory body) and the IAEA.


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| Last update: Tuesday, 09 December, 2014.