U.S. Warns IAEA on Assessing Nuclear Risks of Syria Strike

Global Security Newswire Staff
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Global Security Newswire Staff
Sept. 9, 2013, 12:02 p.m.

As­sess­ing the po­ten­tial nuc­le­ar dangers of U.S. mil­it­ary in­ter­ven­tion in Syr­ia could place the In­ter­na­tion­al Atom­ic En­ergy Agency in vi­ol­a­tion of its man­date, Wash­ing­ton’s en­voy to the U.N. nuc­le­ar watch­dog said on Monday.

The Vi­enna, Aus­tria-based or­gan­iz­a­tion “must de­term­ine wheth­er there is a sci­entif­ic basis for con­duct­ing a highly spec­u­lat­ive in­vest­ig­a­tion of this kind,” Am­bas­sad­or Joseph Mac­manus in a state­ment pre­pared for de­liv­ery at a meet­ing of the 35-na­tion IAEA Board of Gov­ernors.

The warn­ing fol­lowed a Rus­si­an call for the agency to con­sider how a pos­sible at­tack on its Dam­as­cus ally might cre­ate new threats in­volving loc­ally stored atom­ic sub­stances.

Mo­scow’s push for the ana­lys­is brings up a range of con­cerns tied to stat­utes, polit­ics and im­ple­ment­a­tion, IAEA Dir­ect­or Gen­er­al Yukiya Amano said to re­port­ers on Monday. “I hope people un­der­stand that [re­spond­ing] takes time,” he ad­ded, not­ing that Mo­scow had pushed for a quick an­swer from his agency.

An at­tack would risk dis­pers­ing highly en­riched urani­um to the sur­round­ing en­vir­on­ment, Rus­sia has warned. The bomb-us­able ma­ter­i­al could not be tracked fol­low­ing an aer­i­al as­sault, Mo­scow in­dic­ated, pos­sibly al­lud­ing to the ma­ter­i­al’s vul­ner­ab­il­ity to seizure by non­state act­ors.

Amano said Syr­ia’s only known re­search re­act­or does not con­tain a “big amount” of highly en­riched urani­um, but he ad­ded that ad­di­tion­al ra­di­olo­gic­al ma­ter­i­als could be in stor­age at mul­tiple Syr­i­an med­ic­al and sci­entif­ic fa­cil­it­ies.

Former IAEA safe­guards chief Olli Heinon­en said the Middle East­ern coun­try “should have sub­stan­tial amounts” of atom­ic as­sets such as ra­dio­act­ive co­balt iso­topes.

Such hold­ings could be “of a great­er con­cern, if they end up in wrong hands,” Heinon­en told Re­u­ters by e-mail. “Nor­mally they are stored in pro­tec­ted vaults.”

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