Jeffrey LewisIran and Syria Reports

Here are the latest DG Reports on Iran and Syria

Post first, read later.

Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and relevant provisions of Security Council resolutions 1737 (2006), 1747 (2007), 1803 (2008) and 1835 (2008) in the Islamic Republic of Iran, GOV/2009/8

Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Syrian Arab Republic, GOV/2009/9

First, again, I think.

Update: Sorry for the snafu on the links. They are working now.


  1. Andy (History)

    Nothing surprising in the Iran report. The Syria report is another story, particularly paras 6 & 7.

  2. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    Yeah, it looks like fuel, doesn’t it?

  3. mark hibbs (History)

    There’s a South African media report from an hour ago saying that the IAEA found graphite at the site, according to the report GOV/2009/9. Did I miss this in reading the document?

  4. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    I don’t see a reference to graphite.

  5. Omid (History)

    In Iran report,para 10:
    On 7 February 2009, the Agency conducted an inspection at the Fuel Manufacturing Plant, at
    which time it was noted that the process line for the
    production of natural uranium pellets for the
    heavy water reactor fuel had been completed and fuel rods were being produced.

    Compare to the November report which said Iran has problems with the completion of fuel manufacturing cycle.

  6. BW

    There also seems to be a discrepancy in reporting on the number of centrifuges at FEP spinning with UF6 (not by IAEA, by reporters). The September report says that 3,000 centrifuges were being fed UF6, as were “five 164-machine (IR-1) cascades of Unit A26 were being fed with UF6” at FEP – or 3,820 total spinning with UF6.

    News reports today are saying that the Senior IAEA official stated one new 164-unit cascade was being fed since the last reporting.

    However, in footnote 2 of today’s DG report, it is made clear that 3,936 total centrifuges were now spinning with UF6.

    But 3,936-3,820 = 116 (not 164).

    Were they wrong in September or was the briefer wrong today?

  7. Andy (History)


    I’m not sure that it looks like fuel – rather it looks like it is not depleted uranium, which is the only type of uranium used in conventional munitions.

  8. Jeffrey Lewis (History)


    But the universe of possibilities is narrowing — and now excludes the Syrian explanation for the uranium.

    Do you have a hypothesis you like more than fuel?

  9. Yossi

    The report’s paragraphs 6,7 are very interesting and should be analyzed carefully. Possible alternatives are reviewed in my comments on a previous blog

  10. Andy (History)

    No, fuel is the best hypothesis IMO, but I think it’s important to distinguish the difference as other explanations are be possible given the limited evidence we have available.

  11. Allen Thomson (History)

    Is there any prospect of getting the IAEA technical reports concerning the uranium particles? Details of form, metallurgy, chemistry might help figure out what the possibilities are.

    Also, is the state of nuclear and radiochemical forensics such that the origin of the uranium might be determined, or at least some possibilities eliminated?

  12. Andy (History)

    Perhaps the most important line in the Syrian report is this:

    These uranium particles, and those identified as a result of the previous analyses, are of a type not included in Syria’s declared inventory of nuclear material.

    Does anyone have a list of Syria’s declared nuclear material? From that we can narrow possible sources for this material even further.

    As an aside, why is the Agency purposely vague about the results of the tests? Why not provide more detail?

  13. ISIS

    We think we had the report out first, Jeffrey. All in fun, ISIS.

  14. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    Your email to my inbox is time-stamped 10:44 am.

    The time stamp on my post is 10:28.

    The impressive feat, of course, is that you have actually read the report, which I cannot claim even at 4:20 pm.

  15. ISIS

    We think, though we are not certain, that we beat you to the post itself. But we cannot prove this statement!

    The main objective is that the reports are accessible to a wide audience.

  16. Andy (History)

    Here’s some added context:

    There were now around 80 uranium particles in all “of a type not included in Syria’s declared inventory of nuclear material,” the report said.


    The senior official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the amount was “significant.”
    “It’s not simple contamination by somebody who spent the day at some nuclear facility somewhere and then went to Al-Kibar,” the official said.
    “It’s nuclear material that hasn’t been declared and Syria has to explain” how it got there.


    Regarding the graphite, the official said analysis of the samples was still underway.
    “We didn’t find masses of graphite but we found some particles, some traces. We’re still analysing the significance of that and whether that would point to nuclear-grade graphite.”

  17. gridlock (History)

    It hasn’t repudiated Syria’s claim as to origin, it’s simply proved that DU isn’t present. From a logic, not a conspiracy point of view the weapons used could still be the source of the particles.

  18. MWG

    One noteworthy point in the Iran report is the deteriorating Iranian cooperation on the heavy-water reactor. The Agency has not called Iran’s unilateral decision to revoke its obligation under Code 3.1 to provide early design information “noncompliance,” and it now seems like it won’t call Iran’s refusal of DIV inspections “noncompliance.” In effect, ElBaradei is raising the bar for what constitutes “noncompliance,” and (in my view) failing to uphold the Agency’s obligation to report noncompliance under Article XII.C of the IAEA Statute.

  19. KH

    Iran has more enriched uranium than expected. Sufficient to make a bomb (see story and link below).

    i thought everyone here was saying that iran wouldn’t have material for a bomb for several years.

    In their first appraisal of Iran’s nuclear program since President Barack Obama took office, atomic inspectors have found that Iran recently understated by a third how much uranium it has enriched, United Nations officials said Thursday.

    The officials also declared for the first time that the amount of uranium that Tehran had now amassed — more than a ton — was sufficient, with added purification, to make an atom bomb.

    In a report issued in Vienna, the International Atomic Energy Agency said it had discovered an additional 460 pounds of low-enriched uranium, a third more than Iran had previously disclosed.

  20. Major Lemon (History)

    Nothing to suprise us regarding Iran.

  21. Yossi

    Reuters has as usual a fine report.

    This is an interesting and important development to be analyzed carefully. To illustrate the complex situation IAEA, as a law enforcing agency, is in, consider that graphite is also used in the jet vanes of Scud missiles and uranium could hypothetically used in a special Scud warhead designed to penetrate the concrete dome of Dimona. Thus if BoE was a missile facility both materials could be accounted for in principle. Note that I’m not promoting such a theory, just pointing to the difficulty in obtaining a court-level proof.

  22. Allen Thomson (History)

    If the business below about 80 uranium particles is true, I start to wonder if they might not be a ceramic, rather than metallic uranium.

    It’s possible that the bombing might have produced some metallic particles small enough to escape the subsequent Syrian clean-up, but for there to have been enough to allow the IAEA swiping to come up with 80 seems to imply a very large original number. I don’t see how bombing metallic fuel rods, which aren’t particularly brittle, could do that. Maybe a direct hit on a collection of rods in a crate or on a shelf, with high-speed impact by fragments of bomb casing?

    But if they are ceramic, what does that do to the cousin-of-Yongbyon hypothesis?


    IAEA finds graphite, further uranium at Syria site
    Thu Feb 19, 2009 2:20pm EST
    By Mark Heinrich

    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 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.”

  23. John

    What about the marks “Restricted distribution” and “For official use only”?

  24. Mark

    Hooray for alarmist headlines:

    Iran ready to build nuclear weapon, analysts say

    On a related note, I saw ammunition on sale at Walmart the other day, and I saw a suspicious-looking guy in the parking lot, so I’m drafting a report for my local paper entitled “Area Man Ready to go on Murdering Rampage”.

  25. PC (History)

    The graphite reference is from the IAEA BG briefing. Minor traces, and they are still analyzing, so they didn’t include it. But—it seems the plot thins rather than thickens and points more consistently in one direction: the BOE was a Bomb Only Effort.

  26. MWG

    Back to Iran, I think we need to be careful about “sufficient to make a bomb” and “breakout” potential. You can’t make a bomb with LEU at 3.6% enriched LEU. If you’re aiming for 90% enrichment, you’ve reduced the SWU requirement by about 2/3, depending on the tails assay. The additional SWU required to produce one SQ of HEU drops smoothly as the stockpile of LEU grows. There’s no abrupt “breakout” threshold, though Iran has reached the point of diminishing returns.

    I propose using as a figure of merit the time required to produce one SQ at 90%.

  27. Ael (History)

    Not that I necessarily believe that the Israelis did “salt” the site during the bomb run. However, it certainly should not be ruled out.

    In fact, I could see some Israeli spooks giggling while tossing a few bits of uranium into the mix. They could make trouble for both Syria and the IAEA. Kind of a natural “twofer”.

  28. Andy (History)

    Gridlock, you said:

    It hasn’t repudiated Syria’s claim as to origin, it’s simply proved that DU isn’t present. From a logic, not a conspiracy point of view the weapons used could still be the source of the particles.

    Actually, Syria claimed it must have been DU. The Israeli attack probably used a precision-guided general purpose bomb variant (LGB or JDAM), which don’t contain uranium of any type. Now that DU appears, through testing, to be ruled out, there is no conventional munition from which the particles could have originated.


    It’s hard to tell from the post-strike imagery, but if there was a fire in the structure after the attack, that might be another way for uranium particles to spread. Perhaps the bombs broke open some of the rods, which were then in a fire. Could a fire have lofted small particles onto nearby equipment and areas? I don’t know how likely this is, but maybe you or someone with greater expertise than I can comment on this theory.

  29. wandie

    what about something else than fuel?
    let’s suppose that there was a connection with NK. Please remember the very beginning of the story, everyone was so excited about a korean cargo traced from its departure and that was supposed to convey concrete. Now, what if this korean concrete was contaminated (remember the operating records contamination)?

  30. Allen Thomson (History)

    > but if there was a fire in the structure after the attack, that might be another way for uranium particles to spread.

    Yeah, kinda. Uranium metal is pyrophoric given enough heat. I doubt that whole rods would ignite from a general surrounding fire, but maybe small fragments created and ignited by high-velocity impact would. Once again, we lack sufficient knowledge about the facts of the matter to go beyond questions and speculation.

    It would certainly be nice if IAEA would publish just what they’re discovered.

  31. Yossi

    Graphite has many uses including in a missile factory (nosetips, jet vanes and nozzle throats, metal production refractories, electric motor brushes, balistite coating). Unless it’s nuclear-grade it’s no indication for a nuclear facility and then it’s supposed to be a good evidence.

    By the way, there were UAVs operating in the region and graphite is used as structural element (fiber) or lubricant (mixed and expelled with the fuel?).

    The IAEA uranium find becoming more significant is a serious matter. In Syria there is uranium as HEU (the MNSR fuel unless modified), yellowcake (the Homs extraction factory), metallic (the product of the TBP experiments) and nuclear waste. It’s unclear whether the yellowcake and the metallic uranium are officially declared, they are supposed to be in relatively small quantity.

    If BoE was a North Korean Magnox we would expect metallic uranium with 0.5% aluminum. Otherwise we would expect the sources listed above. Unfortunately we don’t have the technical description of the uranium find.

    What uranium in BoE could mean?

    * Very little, particles just carried via equipment or people – means there is some indirect connection between BoE and the legal nuclear projects

    * Production of a “dirty bomb” to supplement the Syrian CW arsenal

    * Improving the penetration of Scud warheads against quality targets

    * Nuclear fuel for the USIC promoted but unlikely nuclear reactor

    The Syrians rushing with the depleted uranium (DU) Israeli ammunition explanation may be a point for BoE being non-nuclear. Building a nuclear reactor the Syrians would have known that such explanation wouldn’t hold water and put them eventually in a worse position. They would probably chose to say that Israel/US framed them using UAVs, a worse argument from a public relations viewpoint but not prohibitively so. Were the Syrians merely trying to gain time? Only if they thought the US would get off their back eventually, an unlikely development if a nuclear program was involved.

    By the way, uranium in military ammunition doesn’t have to be depleted. DU is expected to be used in countries with significant enrichment industry and sensitivity to international law, neither apply to Israel and in less degree to its long time partner, India.

  32. Yossi

    Reuters did it again.

    Spherical particles of uranium oxide? No conventional uranium munition but not Magnox fuel either. Maybe a new focused lethality munition but this is an assassin weapon, why use it against a building?

  33. Hairs (History)

    If the uranium came from fuel rods then there should be traces of alloying elements in the particles and / or traces of cladding oxides in the samples.

    Magnox cladding is wonderfully combustible, and if the temperature is high enough to melt uranium then it is certainly high enough to oxidise the clad. I’m not suggesting that traces of cladding will be found in the particles (instead they should contain traces of fuel alloying elements) but traces of cladding certainly should be present at the same locations where the uranium traces were found. So, does anyone know if the IAEA has looked for cladding residues and alloying elements?

    If clad and fuel alloying elements can be found then I’ll believe it really was fuel. Otherwise all that’s been found is oxidised uranium metal with natural levels of U-235, which does not unambiguously imply reactor fuel.

  34. Yossi

    I’ll try to summarize a silent discussion on the uranium traces. All mistakes are exclusively mine the credit certainly not:

    * The U particles are spherical and probably small maybe a few microns across [1,2]

    * The U particles are composed of natural-uranium oxide [1,2]

    * The particles could be spherical originally but their shape is more probably the result of fire/explosion/impact (metalic U case) or abrasion by wind and sand (UO2 case)

    * Uranium metal is pyrophoric so it would be oxidized at its melting temperature then solidified as an uranium oxide particle, UO2 [3]

    * Water assisted corrosion could probably fully oxidize the uranium particles in the time between the strike and sample taking (about half a year including a rainy winter)

    * Corrosion would make the uranium particle significantly larger (oxygen is added and density drops from 19 to 11)

    * Magnox fuel has a magnesium/zirconium cladding. The IAEA should have looked for this but we don’t know if traces were found of these metals. This is an important point

    * North Korean fuel contains 0.5% aluminum. Again no info on possible traces

    * Uranium particles in the micron range can travel tens of miles by wind but possibly more
    [3]. Could the source be a Iraq/Gulf war?

    * There is a technical possibility the site was “seeded” with the incriminating traces

    * The missing satellite images taken after the strike could probably show if a graphite core was burning and where the debris was moved

    * The evidence on BoE is still not conclusive. Weighting it as a whole, not just concentrate on sensational points, may help

    [1] Reuters – Syria dismisses IAEA uranium find at bombed site

    [2] Global Security Newswire – IAEA Rejects Syrian Uranium Claim

    [3] How Micrometer-Size Uranium Particles Can Become Suspended in Air and Dispersed by Wind – Leonard A. Dietz

  35. peter Zimmerman (History)

    I’m quoting:

    “Yeah, kinda. Uranium metal is pyrophoric given enough heat.”

    Pyrophoric materials are those which, when finely divided, spontaneously burst into flame. No additional heat need be applied. Uranium metal is pyrophoric, and the precautions taken when you machine the metal are fairly formidable. There is no need to take U to its melting point to see fine uranium dust ignite.

    To make this clear: I have personally machined depleted pure uranium metal for use in an accelerator target in a series of nuclear structure physics experiments.

    Uranium oxide is not pyrophoric; it’s already been oxidized. Most reactor fuel is uranium oxide, but Magnox uses metal.


  36. Alex (History)

    graphite is also used in the jet vanes of Scud missiles and uranium could hypothetically used in a special Scud warhead designed to penetrate the concrete dome of Dimona

    Surely this can’t be taken seriously given the CEP of Scud?

  37. Yossi (History)

    Alex, the ACW missile experts should be consulted on this but a Scud-D is supposed to have a CEP of 50m, so a few missiles launched together stand a chance to hit the Dimona dome.

    I must make another comment on the Syrian report. The IAEA says:

    7. The Agency’s current assessment is that there is a low probability that the uranium was introduced by the use of missiles as the isotopic and chemical composition and the morphology of the particles are all inconsistent with what would be expected from the use of uranium based munitions.

    We don’t know which tests were performed by the IAEA and what exactly were the results. However, considering the later info leaks it seems to me that the IAEA checked only the possibility that the attacking missiles employed uranium to improve penetration. In such an application one may expect larger jagged shards and not the small spherical particles actually found (morphology), maybe less oxidation (chemical composition) and DU (isotopic composition).

    I admire the IAEA professional attitude and its integrity in a difficult environment but I dare say they may have overlooked a plausible possibility.

    Suppose the uranium was used in an experimental Dense Inert Metal Explosive (DIME) weapon produced in Israel before it got the large shipment of GBU-39/SDB (FLM?). Such a weapon would employ uranium powder that will melt and freeze to tiny oxide balls during the strike. The uranium would be natural as Israel have no significant enrichment program.

    This possibility may seem far fetched but the alternative, North Korean Magnox fuel without aluminum and traces of the magnesium/zirconium cladding is not in a much better position.

    Why should Israel use a typical assassin weapon (limited range blast but low survival rate of the victims) to attack a nuclear/CW/whatever facility? Maybe the real target was the humans inside BoE and not the equipment.

    This BoE mystery strike may have a connection with the chain of Syrian mystery assassination that followed it and in particular that of the IAEA Syrian interlocutor. This is of course only an hypothesis without supporting evidence but I think it warrants a deeper investigation of Israeli ordnance than just sending a letter of request that is promptly rejected (see para 5).