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IAEA finds graphite, further uranium at Syria site

VIENNA (Reuters) - U.N. inspectors have found graphite as well as further uranium traces in test samples taken from a Syrian site Washington says was a secret graphite nuclear reactor, the International Atomic Energy Agency said on Thursday.

It was the first disclosure that graphite particles had turned up. A senior U.N. official said the discovery of additional uranium traces was a “significant” find, while stressing an IAEA investigation of Syria remained inconclusive.

The IAEA’s first report on Syria in November said the site bore features that would resemble those of an undeclared nuclear reactor and Damascus must cooperate more with U.N. inspectors to let them draw conclusions. Syria denies covert nuclear activity.

Thursday’s report said Damascus, in a letter to the IAEA this month, had repeated its position that the desert complex targeted by Israel in September 2007 was a conventional military building only.

But Syria, it said, was still failing to back up its stance with documentation or by granting further access for IAEA sleuths to the bombed location and three others cited in U.S. intelligence handed to the U.N. watchdog last year.

The senior U.N. official, familiar with the report, said further analysis of swipe samples since November turned up around 40 more instances of processed uranium particles, adding to 40 discovered last year.

He said some graphite traces had been found around the alleged reactor site and also by a water treatment plant 5 km away where equipment for the complex that was bombed to rubble by Israel had been stored temporarily.

“We are sure it is man-made graphite but not yet sure if it has specifications of nuclear-grade graphite,” he said.

“We have now found around 80 uranium particles. It is clear this is a significant finding.”

The IAEA report said the uranium was in a processed form, and added that it was extremely unlikely that the traces came with munitions Israel had used to smash the complex, as Syria has asserted.

“The presence of the particles at the ... site, the imagery of the site available to the agency, and information about certain procurement activities need to be fully understood,” the report said in its summary.

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

IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei called on Syria, as he did in November, to take such transparency steps as soon as possible.

He also urged Israel and other states to share information to help the IAEA in its probe including satellite imagery and agree to let inspectors share this information with Syria.

Reporting by Mark Heinrich