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IAEA finds graphite, uranium traces at suspect Syrian site

Damascus has said in the past that any uranium there could have been from the Israeli bombs that flattened Al-Kibar in September 2007. But the IAEA has virtually ruled out that interpretation.
by Staff Writers
Vienna (AFP) Feb 19, 2009
The UN atomic watchdog has found further uranium particles, as well as traces of graphite at a remote desert site in Syria, which the US alleges was a covert nuclear reactor, it emerged Thursday.

UN inspectors detected more unexplained uranium particles at Al-Kibar, the International Atomic Energy Agency said in a restricted report.

And a senior official close to the agency revealed for the first time that particles of graphite had also been found at the site, but that it was too early to determine whether it was nuclear-grade graphite.

Graphite is used as a key element in the core of nuclear reactors.

Syria insists Al-Kibar is a disused military facility, razed to the ground by Israeli bombers in September 2007.

The IAEA visited the site, which is also known as Dair Alzour, last June, taking a series of environmental samples to see whether there were any traces of nuclear chemicals that would back up the US allegations.

Already last year, the watchdog had revealed that a "significant" number of particles of man-made uranium had been found.

But in the restricted report circulated to IAEA member states on Thursday, a copy of which was obtained by AFP, the agency said that new analyses "have revealed additional particles of anthropogenic (man-made) uranium."

There were now around 80 uranium particles in all "of a type not included in Syria's declared inventory of nuclear material," the report said.

Damascus has said in the past that any uranium there could have been from the Israeli bombs that flattened Al-Kibar in September 2007.

But the IAEA has virtually ruled out that interpretation.

The IAEA's "current assessment is that there is a low probability that the uranium was introduced by the use of missiles," it wrote.

"The isotopic and chemical composition and the morphology of the particles are all inconsistent with what would be expected from the use of uranium based munitions."

The senior official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the amount was "significant."

"It's not simple contamination by somebody who spent the day at some nuclear facility somewhere and then went to Al-Kibar," the official said.

"It's nuclear material that hasn't been declared and Syria has to explain" how it got there.

In the report, circulated to IAEA member states on Thursday and scheduled to be discussed at a meeting of the board of governors next month, Director General Mohamed ElBaradei urged Damascus to come clean about the exact nature of the site, which Syria again insisted earlier this week was a disused military facility.

"The presence of the uranium particles, the imagery of the site available to the agency and information about certain procurement activities need to be fully understood," it said.

"Syria therefore needs to provide additional information and supporting documentation about the past use and nature of the building and information about the procurement activities.

"Syria needs to be transparent by providing additional access to other locations alleged to be related to Dair Alzour. These measures, together with the sampling of destroyed and salvaged equipment and debris, are essential for the agency to complete its assessment."

Regarding the graphite, the official said analysis of the samples was still underway.

"We didn't find masses of graphite but we found some particles, some traces. We're still analysing the significance of that and whether that would point to nuclear-grade graphite."

The IAEA said that Syria had replied to some of its questions in a letter earlier this week.

However, the responses "were only partial and included information already provided and did not address most of the questions raised in the agency's communications," it said.

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80 missing computers at nuke lab: watchdog
San Francisco (AFP) Feb 13, 2009
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