U.N.: Bombed Syrian facility had nuclear reactor features

McClatchy NewspapersNovember 19, 2008 

WASHINGTON — A Syrian facility that Israel bombed last year had similarities to a nuclear reactor and chemically processed uranium particles were found at the site, but a final determination can't be made until Syria provides "the necessary transparency," a new U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency report out Wednesday says.

"The onus of this investigation is on Syria," said a senior U.N. official, who requested anonymity because the report is confidential.

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

"There is no communication whatsoever, no progress regarding possible military dimensions of their (Iran's) program," the senior U.N. official said.

The reports served as stark reminders of one of the thorniest security issues that will confront President-elect Barack Obama — global nuclear proliferation — particularly Iran's refusal to suspend the uranium enrichment program that it kept secret for 18 years.

Iran says that it's legally producing low-enriched uranium fuel for power reactors; U.S. and other Western officials contend that Tehran is pursuing the capability 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. economic sanctions and punitive measures by the United States and the European Union.

The nuclear watchdog's director general, Mohamed ElBaradei, submitted the confidential reports to the agency's 35-nation board of governors. Copies were posted on a blog, www.armscontrolwonk.com.

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

U.S. officials said that satellite pictures, photos taken inside the semi-completed facility — also known as al Kibar — before it was bombed and other information showed that the building was a copy of the British-designed natural uranium-powered reactor that North Korea built at its main nuclear complex at Yongbyon.

The Bush administration provided the IAEA with the materials on which the U.S. assessment was based.

"It cannot be excluded" that the Syrian facility "was intended for non-nuclear use," the IAEA report says.

However, it continues, "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."

Pre-attack photographs show a "containment structure (that) appears to have been similar in dimension and layout to that required for a biological shield for nuclear reactors, and the overall size of the building was sufficient to house the equipment needed for a nuclear reactor of the type alleged" by the United States, the report says.

It also says that dirt 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 found that they were "produced as a result of chemical processing," the report says.

Syria is required by an accord with the IAEA to inform the agency six months before it begins building a nuclear reactor.

Damascus contends that the destroyed building was an unused non-nuclear military facility. It says that it lacks the trained manpower and other requirements to have run such a reactor.

Satellite pictures taken after the Israeli strike showed that the remains of the facility were demolished and then buried or carted away, and a shed-like building was erected over the site.

The report criticizes Israel for its "unilateral use of force," the Bush administration for waiting seven months after the attack to turn over information on the site to the agency and Syria for the "removal of the remains," all of which made the IAEA inquiry "more difficult and complex."

Syria told the IAEA inspectors that the uranium particles had come from missiles fired in the Israeli airstrike, and it refused them access to three other sites that satellite photographs provided by an IAEA member nation showed might have been related to Dair Alzour, the report says.

The senior U.N. official said the particles weren't depleted uranium, a substance used in hardened military munitions, and a second U.N. official said that one of the closed locations is thought to contain debris removed from Dair Alzour that inspectors want to test.

"The director general has called on Syria to provide the necessary transparency, including allowing visits to the requested locations and access to all available information for the agency to complete its assessment," the report says, noting that Damascus also has failed to provide the inspectors with documents related to the suspected reactor.

The IAEA also urged Israel to cooperate in the investigation.

ON THE WEB

The IAEA report on Syria

The IAEA report on Iran

MORE FROM MCCLATCHY

The Bush administration says this video contains conclusive evidence that North Korea was helping Syria build a plutonium production reactor

Strike on Iran nuclear sites under discussion again

U.S. accuses North Korea, Syria of constructing nuclear reactor

McClatchy Newspapers 2008

McClatchy Washington Bureau is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service