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9 Sep, 2013 18:56

Russia, US argue over Moscow’s request for IAEA to analyze risk of Syria nuclear disaster

Russia, US argue over Moscow’s request for IAEA to analyze risk of Syria nuclear disaster

Russia and the US are in dispute over Moscow’s request for the International Atomic Agency to analyze risks if military strikes hit a nuclear plant near Damascus. The agency said it is considering the appeal, but won’t give an answer “immediately”.

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As a UN atomic agency was meeting on Monday, Russia urged the UN nuclear watchdog to give an “immediate” answer, stressing the urgency of the issue. On September, 5 Russia warned that a military strike on Syria could lead to a nuclear catastrophe if a missile were to hit the so-called Miniature Neutron Source Reactor (MNSR) near Damascus.

So far, three countries - Russia, Cuba and the US - have spoken on the subject, but Yukiya Amono, IAEA’s Director General, declined to disclose details of the discussion.

However, there is no unity in the 35-Member State Board on whether the International Atomic Agency should comply with Russia’s request, Amano said.

The US ambassador to the IAEA, Joseph Macmanus, insisted that carrying out an analysis as Russia requests was not the UN agency's job and it would exceed the IAEA’s mandate.

"It is our view that requests for comprehensive risk analyses of hypothetical scenarios are beyond the IAEA's statutory authority," said  Macmanus.

The IAEA "will have to review such a request in light of legal authorities, mandate and resources and must determine whether there is a scientific basis for conducting a highly speculative investigation of this kind," Macmanus was quoted as saying.  

The IAEA’s head, Yukiya Amano, said he was not sure if the agency would be able to come up with an answer to Russia’s request by the end of the week-long session.

“This is a complicated issue and it has many aspects. It is also important to listen to opinions of other IAEA member states,” Amano said.

“I can’t tell when we’ll be ready to answer our friends [Russia],” he added.

Earlier the IAEA said in a report to member states that Syria had declared there was a “small amount of nuclear material” at the MNSR, a type of research reactor usually fuelled by highly enriched uranium.

The MNSR runs on 900 grams of highly enriched uranium – much less than the 25 kg that would be sufficient to build a bomb, according to experts.

However, despite this type of reactor not containing a lot of nuclear material, it would be enough to cause "a serious local radiation hazard".