Skip to content

Waste management and depleted uranium topics in workshop

Published: 22 November 2011

How can you safely store hazardous waste in landfills over time and how can it be possible to isolate the depleted uranium from weapons and ammunition, used in the Iraq war. That was two issues that dominated a workshop recently at Luleå University of Technology. The workshop was attended, among others, by President of the Iraqi Parliament and the country's environment minister

- We already have an agreement with Iraq on research cooperation and through this workshop, we have been able to, among other things, focus on one of Iraq indicate certainty problem, namely how the remnants of the Iraq war in the form of weapons and ammunition, which is contaminated by depleted uranium; can be isolated and disposed, says Professor Sven Knutsson at the university and head of the workshop.

About 70 people attended the workshop, of which about 30 from Iraq. Landfills for hazardous waste and its impact on health and environment is the theme of the workshop. It gave an opportunity for specialists to discuss how landfills should be designed based on geological, geotechnical and soil-physical issues as well as construction methods. Conditions in different climate zones is another important parameter in this context.

Depleted uranium is a major problem in post-war Iraq. It has for example been used in projectiles and distributed either as vapor or small particles which means that fallout contaminated large areas. Collection and disposal of depleted uranium were some of the workshop discussion points. It was made clear that uranium is very dangerous to humans and the environment because it is made of nuclear waste that contains a variety of radioactive isotopes and other hazardous chemicals. When used in weapons and ammunition alpha, beta and gamma particles is spread out which can cause serious biological damage. One of the workshop conclusions and requirements is that a ban on the manufacturing, transport, storage and use of such weapons would be forbidden in the future, a requirement that also has broad support in the UN General Assembly.

A challenge for scientists, researchers and institutions is to find solutions that can minimize the radiation, that otherwise may remain for millions of years and represent a serious health and environmental problem. Rapid and immediate action was called for by the Iraqi government to minimize the problems. Some of the proposals after the workshop was to establish a "High Commision" where relevant authorities, researchers and others should be included, and who are given powers to take appropriate steps to get rid of the waste, the Iraqi staff will be trained by international institutions and universities how waste can be taken care of and that contaminated material should be collected and stored in unpopulated, so-called "hot spot" locations. In addition a wide range of action points for how to select and design landfills, public information such as through lectures in schools, etc.

The workshop was attended among others by the Speaker of Iraqi Parliament, the country's environment minister, the Iraqi ambassador of Sweden and cultural attaché in Stockholm and a number of specialists who are interested in design and performance of landfills for hazardous waste.