IAEA reports on Iran, Syria

20 November 2008

Safeguards reports from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirm that Iran is continuing to enrich uranium and expand its enrichment plants, and that anthropogenic uranium particles have been found in samples from the bombed Dair Alzou site in Syria.


The IAEA announced on 19 November that director general Mohamed ElBaradei's latest reports on safeguards in Iran and Syria had been circulated to the Agency's Board of Governors ready for discussion at its next meeting in Vienna on 27 November. Although the circulation of the reports is restricted, the US-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) has made copies of them publicly available on its web site.


At the Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP), production hall A is being set up with eight units (A24-A28 initially), each of 19 cascades with 164 centrifuges – total 3116. According to the report on Iran, the country has continued to feed uranium hexafluoride (UF6) into the 3000-machine IR1 unit and the five-cascade A26 unit at the FEP, and into a 10-machine cascade and three single centrifuges at the Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant (PFEP). In addition, work has been continuing on the installation and testing of a further 13 cascades of enrichment centrifuges at A26 and preparatory installation work at three further units at FEP. The IAEA has confirmed that environmental samples taken at both plants, plus operating records, indicate that the plants have been operating as declared and producing uranium enriched to less than 5.0% U-235.


In November 2008 the IAEA reported that at the FEP, unit A24 was operating as were five units of A26, hence total of about 3800 centrifuges.  Installation and testing of 13 units of A26 continued (2132 more). A total of 9760 kg of UF6 had been fed into the FEP cascades between February 2007 and November 2008 and 630 kg of low-enriched uranium had been produced.  A total of 31kg of UF6 was fed into the PFEP centrifuges between August and October. All the material and cascades had remained under IAEA containment and surveillance. Preparatory work on three more units of 3000 centrifuges was under way.

The IAEA reports it has been able to verify the non-diversion of nuclear material in Iran, but says that a number of outstanding issues raised in previous reports still need to be clarified if military dimensions to Iran's nuclear programme are to be ruled out, and has reiterated calls for Iran to be more open with it. "The Agency believes that Iran could, as a matter of transparency, assist the Agency in its assessment of these issues by providing it with access to documents, information and personnel," the report notes.


Syria: Uranium at Dair Alzour


The IAEA's report on Syria focuses on developments related to allegations that a building destroyed by an Israeli air strike in April 2008 was the site of a nuclear reactor. Syria maintains that the site, at Dair Azour (also known as Al Kibar) was a military site and not involved in nuclear activities.


According to the report, a "significant number" of particles of natural uranium from anthropogenic sources - that is, produced by chemical processing rather than naturally present - were found in samples from the site. Syria maintains that the uranium particles must have come from the missiles used to destroy the site, a claim the IAEA says it will be investigating by requesting relevant information from Israel. Syria has also asserted that the destroyed building could not have been a nuclear facility for various reasons, including the unavailability of sufficient treated water or electricity supplies at the site, but the IAEA says the overall water infrastructure and pumping capacity, as well as the electrical capacity, that it observed during its June 2008 visit to the site would be sufficient to operate the 25 MWt reactor referred to in the original allegations.


Based on satellite imagery of the site before and after the bombing, the features of the destroyed building coupled with the availability of adequate pumped water "are similar to what may be found in connection with a reactor site," the IAEA notes, although acknowledging that this does not exclude the possibility that the building was indeed intended for non-nuclear use.


The IAEA says it was "severely hampered" in its safeguards duties by the "unilateral use of force" in destroying the site and the late provision of information concerning the building. Syria has also joined the IAEA in expressing its dissatisfaction with the earlier leaking of environmental sampling results to the world's press.