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Last Updated: Friday, 6 June, 2003, 11:29 GMT 12:29 UK
Profile: Tuwaitha nuclear plant

By Caroline Hawley
BBC correspondent in Baghdad

Tuwaitha was once one of the most heavily guarded facilities in Iraq - a vast sprawling nuclear site just south of Baghdad.

But during the war, Tuwaitha's guards disappeared, the gates to the site were opened and looters poured in.

The UN's nuclear agency had warned the Americans that Tuwaitha needed protection. It came too late.

US troops look down on the facility at al Tuwaitha
Local people have fallen sick after the site was looted
By the time American soldiers had secured the site in early May, barrels containing uranium had been stolen.

Local people say the looters were not after the uranium itself, which they tipped onto the ground so they could take away the containers to store food and water.

Some have since fallen sick with nose-bleeds, vomiting, breathing difficulties and skin problems.

Workers living on the site, worried about being contaminated themselves, buried the spilled uranium in cement and made a desperate appeal to visiting journalists for international help.

Weeks later, the nuclear experts are finally arriving.

But the Americans have given the go-ahead for only a limited mission.

Inspectors will not be allowed to address the health and safety risks that are terrifying the local population.

One scientist who used to work at Tuwaitha told the BBC that as well as uranium the site had also has nuclear waste and four sources of highly radioactive material that have now gone missing.

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