Nuclear mattersIAEA reports more undeclared uranium discovered in Syria

Published 8 June 2009

On 7 September 2007 Israel destroyed a suspected Syrian nuclear reactor; the IAEA later found uranium particles at the remote desert site, contradicting Syrian claims that the destroyed site was a non-nuclear facility; on Friday, the IAEA reported that “anthropogenic natural uranium particles” were found in a facility in Damascus

On 6 September 2007, Israel, in an impressive military operation, destroyed a nuclear reactor in north-east Syria (the more impressive aspect of the operation was the fact that it was the first incident of an all-out electronic warfare: Israel took down, electronically, the Syrian power grid before the attack, blinding the Syrian air defenses and making communication among Syrian military units and government offices impossible). Ynet reports that on Friday, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that it had found traces of processed uranium at second site in Syria, leading to fears of covert nuclear activity.

The IAEA has been examining U.S. intelligence reports that Syria almost built a North Korean-designed nuclear reactor meant to yield weapons-grade plutonium before Israel bombed it to rubble in 2007. Inspectors who found uranium particles at the remote desert site a year ago also found similar traces at a small research reactor in the capital Damascus which the IAEA knew about and checks once a year, a IAEA report said. These traces were different from Syria’s declared nuclear material inventory.

The IAEA said in February that inspectors had found enough traces of uranium in soil samples taken from the bombed site a year ago to constitute a significant find. Friday’s report said “anthropogenic natural uranium particles” had also turned up in environmental swipe samples taken from hot cells of the Miniature Neutron Source Reactor (MNSR) facility in Damascus.

Syria, told of the IAEA’s discovery last month, sent a written response to the IAEA on Monday. The response did not not address the presence and origin of the particles and the UN watchdog was investigating a possible connection with the uranium particles found at the bombed site, the report said.

The IAEA said previously satellite pictures taken before the Israeli bombing revealed a building resembling a reactor.

The new report said Syria, citing national security, was still ignoring IAEA requests for wider access and documentation to back up its assertion that Israel’s target at Dair Alzour was a conventional military building. The IAEA again urged Syria to provide additional data and trips to Dair Alzour and other, allegedly related locations to allow test-sampling of destroyed or salvaged equipment and debris removed before investigators were let into the country.

It is clearly in Syria’s interest to render to the agency the necessary cooperation and transparency if it wishes the agency to be able to corroborate its assertion about the nature of the Dair Alzour site,” the report said.

Syria’s only declared nuclear site is the old research reactor and it has no known nuclear energy-generating capacity.

The report said Syria was also refusing to discuss satellite pictures the IAEA had offer to share with it. Syria had provided information regarding procurement of certain equipment and materials including a large quantity of graphite and large quantities of barium sulphate”, a compound sometimes used as a radiation shield in nuclear structures.

Syria had indicated the procurement efforts were civilian and non-nuclear, relating to water purification, the steel industry, and shielding material for radiation therapy centers. It has claimed that the uranium particles retrieved from samples taken at Dair Alzour came from depleted uranium used in Israeli munitions, an assertion dismissed by the IAEA.

Syria has also suggested IAEA analyses were faulty and that satellite imagery Washington gave to the IAEA was fabricated.

Vienna diplomats said in March that Syria had told the IAEA it had built a missile facility on the desert tract hit by Israel, a disclosure apparently meant to reinforce the Syrian refusal to grant more IAEA access on national security grounds. “The agency must condemn Syria for hiding facts regarding this activity,” the response said. 

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