EU to help Iraq dismantle old nuclear facilities

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The European Union signed a 2.5 million euro ($3.2 million) agreement with Iraq Sunday to help Iraqi scientists’ dismantle, decommission and decontaminate nuclear facilities built under dictator Saddam Hussein.

Iraq has tried to clean up its 10 old nuclear sites around the country as U.S. combat operations end seven years after the invasion to topple Saddam. But the going has been slow since the work began two years ago.

The EU program to train Iraqi scientists and provide equipment will speed up the clearing operation which had been estimated to take up to 10 years. So far scientists have only cleared one site in central Baghdad.

“This contract will help boost the abilities (of the scientists) so they will be able to dismantle more complicated facilities,” Science and Technology Minister Raed Fahmy told reporters after signing an agreement with the EU in Baghdad.

The EU will spend 1.5 million euros on training and 1 million euros to provide equipment such as radiation detectors and protective clothing.

The EU said it would publish a tender before the end of the month for firms interested in providing the equipment.

Italy’s Insubria Center on International Security (ICIS), Britain’s National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) and Belgium’s BelgoProcess are assisting the program.

Both NNL and BelgoProcess specialize in dismantling, decommissioning and decontamination activities, radioactive waste management and disposal.

Up to 80 Iraqi nuclear scientists will be involved in program.

“The idea is to exchange scientists and to gain mutual experience and to build capacity,” said Achim Ladwig, the charge d’affaires of the EU delegation to Iraq.

Reporting by Aseel Kami; Editing by Serena Chaudhry and Jon Hemming