IAEA: Bombed Syrian site had features like a nuclear reactor

McClatchy NewspapersNovember 19, 2008 

WASHINGTON — The Syrian facility bombed last year by Israel had features similar to a nuclear reactor and chemically processed uranium particles were found at the site, but a full assessment cannot be done until Syria provides "the necessary transparency," a new U.N. International Atomic Agency report said Wednesday.

A second IAEA report said that Iran has persisted in blocking the agency's probe of its nuclear program and continues to defy U.N. Security Council demands to suspend uranium enrichment, a process that produces fuel for nuclear weapons.

The confidential reports by the nuclear watchdog's director general, Mohammad ElBaradei, were sent to the agency's 35-nation board of governors. Copies were posted on an Internet blog, armscontrolwonk.com.

The reports served as stark reminders of one of thorniest issues that will confront President-elect Barak Obama — nuclear proliferation, and in particular Iran's refusal to suspend the uranium enrichment program that it kept secret for 18 years and its failure to cooperate in the IAEA probe.

Iran insists that it is legally producing low-enriched uranium fuel for power reactors, but U.S. officials believe that Tehran is seeking the ability to make highly enriched uranium used in the explosive cores of nuclear bombs.

Iran has refused to halt its enrichment program despite being hit with three rounds of U.N. sanctions and punitive economic measures by the United States and the European Union.

The IAEA launched an inquiry into the Dair Alzour site in eastern Syria after the United States in April charged that the facility destroyed in a September 2007 Israeli airstrike was a nuclear reactor that was being built with North Korean assistance to produce plutonium for bombs.

U.S. officials said that satellite pictures, photographs taken inside the semi-completed facility before it was struck and other information showed that the facility was a copy of a British-designed natural uranium-powered reactor built by North Korea at Yongbyon.

In his report, ElBaradei said, "It cannot be excluded" that the Syrian facility "was intended for non-nuclear use."

But, he continued, "The features of the building . . . along with the connectivity of the site to adequate pumping capacity of cooling water, are similar to what may be found in connection with a reactor site."

The report also said that environmental samples taken from the site by IAEA inspectors who visited in June contained "a significant number of natural uranium particles."

An analysis of the particles showed that they were "produced as a result of chemical processing," the report said.

Syria has insisted that the destroyed building was a non-nuclear military facility and told the IAEA inspectors that the uranium particles had come from rockets fired in the Israeli airstrike, the report said.

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McClatchy Newspapers 2008

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