Iran and Syria

IAEA report casts doubts on Iran’s nuclear behaviour …

The International Atomic Energy Agency released a report in February which surveys Iran’s nuclear activity. In it, the Agency criticises the level of cooperation it has received from Tehran and raises concerns over nuclear activities that may be underway in the Middle Eastern state. The Agency states that it continues to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran, but adds that the state ‘has not provided the necessary cooperation to permit the Agency to confirm that all nuclear material is in peaceful activities.’ Commentators have remarked on the clear and critical tone of the report, which has been the first to be produced under the IAEA’s new Director-General, Yukiya Amano.

The report surveyed the broad sweep of the Agency’s knowledge of Iranian nuclear activities, detailing the various concerns that have been raised over a wide range of areas. The report includes observations on topics such as Iran’s conversion, enrichment and reprocessing activities, and considers military dimensions to the Iranian programme. The Agency remarks that Tehran’s actions have raised ‘concerns about the possible existence in Iran of past or current undisclosed activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile.’

The release of the report led to condemnation of Tehran by some states. Iran’s Supreme Leader responded that its conclusions were ‘baseless.’

Syria’s nuclear activities
A recent report, issued by Yukiya Amano, the Director General IAEA, has increased pressure on Syria to cooperate with the Agency in verifying the country’s nuclear activities. Syria, a signatory to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) since 1969 and a proponent of a Nuclear-Weapon-Free-Zone (NWFZ) in the Middle East has been generally reluctant to allow access to what remains of the Dair Alzour facility, which was bombed by Israel in September 2007, and has continued to insist that the bombed installation was a non-nuclear military facility. The IAEA has other evidence that appears to contradict this claim, including information that indicates that the facility was a nuclear reactor built with the help of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), an accusation that Syria denies.

In October 2007, the IAEA obtained satellite images that showed that the site had been cleared. On 23 June 2008, IAEA inspectors were given access to Dair Alzour where they discovered traces of ‘anthropogenic natural uranium’ which Syria had not declared. Damascus insisted that the uranium had come from Israel’s missiles. The Agency considers that there is a low probability that this is the case, but is unable to discount it entirely because of Israel’s reluctance to provide the information required to verify it.

According to the report, the IAEA sent the Syrian government a letter on 7 January 2010, requesting that Syria cooperates fully with the Agency’s investigation. The letter asked for more information on the destroyed site, such as technical details regarding its design, increased openness about Syria’s procurement efforts, access to the debris of the Dair Alzour facility, and further access to Dair Alzour itself, as well as three other areas that might be connected to Syria’s alleged nuclear programme. Syria has refused to cooperate, claiming that because the site has been cleared it is unable to to the Agency’s demands.

During the Agency’s limited investigations, anthropogenic natural uranium particles were also discovered at the Miniature Neutron Source Reactor (MNSR) in Damascus. According to the IAEA report, ‘Syria’s initial explanations for the presence of the particles were that they had originated either from standard reference materials used in neutron activation analysis or from a shielded transport container.’
The Agency’s own findings did not support this explanation, prompting Syria to suggest “that the particles may have originated from other materials present at the MNSR, specifically quantities of yellowcake produced at a pilot phosphoric acid purification plant at Homs, previously undeclared uranyl nitrate compounds derived from the yellowcake and/or small quantities of previously undeclared imported uranyl nitrate materials.’

It is unclear whether there is a link between the uranium discovered at the MNSR and the Dair Alzour site, but it is something that the report stresses needs to be investigated. There is also concern that there may be a link between the uranium particles discovered at the MNSR and the other locations that need to be investigated. And whether there was a connection between nuclear material found at the MNSR and the yellowcake from the Homs phosphoric acid purification pilot plant (where, in July 2004, inspectors had noted hundreds of kilograms of yellowcake).

The report concludes by urging Syria to cooperate more fully with the IAEA, and requests that the government in Damascus sign an Additional Protocol, which would allow the Agency to more fully verify Syria’s nuclear activities .

– Tim Collins and Bill Eichler, London