Syria Allows Uranium Plant Inspection

By Crail, Peter | Arms Control Today, April 2011 | Go to article overview
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Syria Allows Uranium Plant Inspection


Crail, Peter, Arms Control Today


Syria has given the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) access to an additional site tied to the country's nuclear program, a move the agency characterized in a Feb. 25 report as a positive but insufficient step to address concerns about Syria's nuclear activities.

The report indicated that Syria agreed in February to allow inspection of a pilot plant near the city of Horns that produces a uranium concentrate called yellowcake through the purification of phosphoric acid. Yellowcake is a precursor in the production of fuel for nuclear reactors. In April 2008, the United States formally accused Syria of constructing a nuclear reactor at Dair al Zour for the purpose of developing nuclear weapons, a charge Syria denies. Israel destroyed the suspected reactor building in September 2007.

The Horns visit is part of a "plan of action" agreed between Syria and the IAEA last September to address the agency's concerns about undeclared nuclear experiments Syria conducted at its Miniature Neutron Source Reactor in Damascus using unreported nuclear material. (See ACT, October 2010.) In 2009 the agency discovered chemically processed uranium particles not declared as part of Syria's nuclear research efforts. After initially providing explanations inconsistent with the IAEA findings, Syria admitted to carrying out small-scale uranium-conversion and -irradiation experiments at the facility using yellowcake produced at Horns.

The agency is seeking to determine whether the Horns plant had produced larger quantities of yellowcake than Syria has reported.

According to a November 2010 IAEA report, Syria told the agency last October that the Horns plant was not subject to IAEA safeguards and that "further aspects of the Agency's request for access needed to be discussed and clarified" before Syria could admit inspection. The IAEA does not apply standard safeguards to yellowcake because it is a form of uranium at the very early stages of creating nuclear fuel or material for a nuclear weapon.

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