The United States and the European Union said on Friday they were disturbed by apparent Syrian efforts to "sanitize" sites U.N. inspectors want to examine in a probe into alleged covert nuclear activity.
Washington accused Damascus of adopting Iranian tactics to impede a nuclear watchdog investigation into what U.S. officials say was a secret atomic reactor that could have made plutonium for atom bombs if Israel had not bombed the site last year.
A November 19 International Atomic Energy Agency report said satellite imagery of the site revealed a layout resembling that of a reactor. Traces of uranium, or nuclear fuel, were found by inspectors allowed to scour the Al-Kibar site in June.
The IAEA's director urged Syria on Thursday to heed multiple agency requests for a return trip to Al-Kibar and to three military sites, as well as documentation about their uses, to help inspectors draw conclusions about what they were.
U.S. and EU envoys told a meeting of the IAEA's 35-nation Board of Governors that Syria needed to clarify why Syria had landscaped all four sites and removed objects after inspectors asked to see them, as revealed by satellite pictures.
U.S. Ambassador Gregory Schulte said the pictures, which inspectors screened last week for governors, offered "dramatic evidence that Syria took immediate steps to sanitize" the locations in question.
Syria has dismissed the intelligence as fabrications and ruled out more inspection visits on national security grounds.
"So far Syria seems to be testing the tactics of hindrance and unhelpfulness that Iran has so finely honed," U.S. Ambassador Gregory Schulte told the closed-door gathering.
The IAEA says Iran is stonewalling a longer-running probe into intelligence material that Washington says shows Tehran illicitly studied how to design atom bombs. Iran denies this but has not provided back-up evidence, the U.N. watchdog says.
SYRIA STANDS GROUND
Syria's top envoy reiterated to the meeting that the site Israel hit was a conventional military building. He also ruled expanded IAEA inspections on national security grounds.
Still, a diplomat close to the IAEA said it had resumed contacts with Syria about follow-up steps in the investigation and the next agency report would be issued in February.
An official summary of the meeting said some members -- an allusion to developing nations who comprise half the board -- complained that tardy sharing of intelligence and Israel's "unilateral use of force" had severely hampered the inquiry.
Western delegations said that, given Syria's assertion that the uranium traces came with missiles used to destroy Al-Kibar, the only way to verify their origin was to let the IAEA examine debris and equipment whisked away from the desert site.
Schulte said the case underlined the IAEA's limitations in a country that has not ratified the Additional Protocol, a crucial tool in detecting clandestine nuclear behavior since it permits short-notice inspections beyond declared nuclear sites.
"Syria is one state that declined to adopt the protocol. Perhaps we now understand why," he said.
Schulte and French Ambassador Francois-Xavier Deniaud, speaking for the European Union, urged Syria to embrace the protocol to help rebuild confidence in its intentions.
Syria has ruled this out as long as Israel refuses to do so as well as join the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and give up its undeclared nuclear arsenal, the only one in the Middle East.
Available at: http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory?id=6352039
1. Iran says more than 5,000 centrifuges in operation
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Iran now has more than 5,000 uranium enrichment centrifuges in operation, as it pushes ahead with its controversial nuclear programme, the Iranian Atomic Energy Organisation chief said on Wednesday.
"At this stage, more than 5,000 centrifuges are in operation," said Gholam Reza Aghazadeh, quoted by the state news agency IRNA.
The figure corresponds to the latest report from the International Atomic Energy Agency, which said last week that Iran has 3,820 centrifuges in operation and another 2,132 being installed or tested.
Iran has stockpiled approximately 630 kilograms (1,389 pounds) of low-enriched uranium, from the 3,800 centrifuges currently in operation, according to the IAEA.
Estimates vary but the UN watchdog has said that about 1,700 kilograms of LEU would be needed for conversion into high-enriched uranium for use in an atom bomb, although other estimates put the figure as low as 700 kilograms.
At the end of August, Iran said it was operating about 4,000 uranium enrichment centrifuges and installing several thousand more.
Iran is already under three sets of UN Security Council sanctions over its refusal to freeze enrichment.
Western powers, led by the United States, suspect the nuclear programme is a cover for making the bomb.
Iran, a leading OPEC oil producer, denies it is seeking nuclear weapons and insists its programme is designed to provide energy for its growing population when its reserves of fossil fuels run out.
Under the enrichment process being carried out at Natanz, a huge underground complex in central Iran, low-grade uranium is refined into fuel that can power reactors, or at highly enriched levels, into weapons-grade material.
Last week, Iran's IAEA ambassador, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, told reporters at the Vienna-based organisation that all of the stockpiled LEU is under IAEA safeguards and cannot be diverted to make a bomb.
At Natanz, there is a "closed circuit and all the material will go in a closed capsule or large container and that container is sealed to the wall by agency's (IAEA's) seals, and the camera is watching," he said.
"As soon as anyone wants to touch the seals, the next second the world would know. This is the reality on the ground."
Iranian officials have repeatedly said they have no intention of freezing enrichment and that as a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran has the right to make its own nuclear fuel.
Available at: http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5jAlTqxH87kdJfOXpj5fFLLCn6gdg
A Russian company tasked with building Iran's first nuclear plant is to increase the number of its staff at the Bushehr nuclear plant.
Russia's Atomstroiexport, nuclear power equipment and service export monopoly, has declared that it would increase the number of its personnel by at least 25 percent as the final stages to start up the plant is underway.
"The nuclear power station at Bushehr is entering a new phase. Atomstroyexport is increasing its efforts to bring more personnel to work on the station," the Russian contractor said in a statement e-mailed to Reuters on Friday.
"The main technology for the station has already been installed, so the construction work is being concluded while the activisation work is getting under way," Atromstroyexport said.
This new phase of the project -- which involves readying the nuclear reactor for start up -- requires that staff number to increase to more than 2,000 workers from the current 1,600, it said.
On Thursday, the head of the Russian company, Sergei Kiriyenko, declared that the Bushehr plant would be completed in 2009.
Iran and Russia signed an agreement on nuclear cooperation in 1992, and Atomstroyexport signed a contract in January 1995 to finish building Iran's first nuclear power plant in the southern city of Bushehr, originally started in the mid-1970s by Siemens of Germany but then abandoned with the 1979 Islamic Revolution
The plant was originally scheduled to come on stream in 1999, but the project has faced numerous delays.
Available at: http://www.presstv.ir/detail.aspx?id=76852§ionid=351020104
The European Commission is restarting its legislative efforts to set nuclear power safety standards as the energy sector makes a comeback, officials said.
With nuclear power gaining more favor as a way to cut carbon emissions in an age of global warming, EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs Wednesday kicked off an effort to renew a formerly abandoned push to impose mandatory nuclear power generation safety standards, the EU Observer reported.
European nuclear safety guidelines that are currently only voluntary would become the basis of a new set of requirements under Piebalgs' proposals, the Observer reported. Piebalg said all EU states need to have similar standards in order to give legal certainty across the continent.
The European Commission wants to strengthen the role of its regulatory bodies, which for the most part are authorized by member states to grant nuclear power licenses and to supervise the siting, design and commissioning such plants, the Observer said.
Available at: http://www.upi.com/Top_News/2008/11/27/EU_Commission_seeks_nuke_plant_rules/UPI-99271227792487/
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