May 31, 2010 / 9:59 PM / 10 years ago

Syria reports past nuclear work, blocks access: IAEA

VIENNA (Reuters) - Syria has revealed some details of past nuclear experiments to U.N. inspectors but is still blocking access to a desert site where secret atomic activity may have taken place, a confidential IAEA report said.

The International Atomic Energy Agency report, obtained by Reuters on Monday, said Syria was not allowing follow-up access to a bombed desert site which U.S. intelligence reports said had been a North Korean-designed nuclear reactor under construction, geared for atomic bomb fuel.

Israel bombed the site to rubble in 2007. Syria allowed the IAEA to inspect the site in June 2008 but has not allowed the agency to revisit it since then.

The agency says it needs to take more samples at the site to remove any doubts about Syria’s past atomic activities. It also repeated a call for access to three military sites, whose appearance was altered by landscaping after the IAEA first asked to check them.

“Such access is essential to enable the agency to establish the facts and make progress in its verification, while protecting military and other information which Syria considers to be sensitive,” IAEA chief Yukiya Amano wrote.

Syria, an ally of Iran which is under IAEA investigation over nuclear proliferation suspicions, has denied ever having an atom bomb program and says the intelligence suggesting it had is fabricated.

TRACES AND EXPERIMENTS

Syria has allowed inspectors to visit a research reactor in Damascus where they have been checking whether there is a link with the bombed Dair Alzour desert site after discovering unexplained particles of processed uranium at both.

Some analysts say the uranium traces raise the question of whether it used some natural uranium intended for the alleged reactor at Dair Alzour in tests applicable to learning how to separate out bomb-grade plutonium from spent nuclear fuel.

On a recent visit to the Damascus reactor, Syria belatedly revealed that it had conducted experiments to irradiate and convert uranium-derived material during 2004, the report said.

Syria also provided the IAEA with information about amounts of previously undisclosed nuclear material.

“These were (experiments) with small quantities in order to learn the processes,” a senior official familiar with the IAEA probe said. “They should have been reported to the IAEA under the safeguards agreement.”

The official said it was not clear if the past work was just experimental, as Syria claimed, or if it could have had other uses. The report said the IAEA was examining further samples.

It urged Syria to cooperate with the agency’s open questions about the work as soon as possible and said it should adopt the IAEA’s Additional Protocol, which permits unfettered inspections beyond declared nuclear sites to hunt out any covert atomic activity.

The issue, along with the IAEA’s concern about Iran’s atomic program, will be on the agenda at a meeting of the IAEA’s 35-nation board of governors starting June 7.

Editing by Tim Pearce

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