So it turns out that we’re just living in James Acton’s shadow over here.
Mark Hibbs has details on the “uranium oxide traces”:http://www.totalwonkerr.net/1881/update-from-the-pencil-factory that the IAEA found in Syria. It’s in the the April 6 issue of “NuclearFuel”:http://www.platts.com/Nuclear/Newsletters%20&%20Reports/Nuclear%20Fuel/.
First, it appears that “James’s view”:http://www.armscontrolwonk.com/2106/new-evidence-of-nork-syria-link of the 80+ particles of anthropogenic U found in Syria is shared within the IAEA:
bq. Early this year, a senior UN safeguards official said the IAEA believed that the particles appeared to be NATU that had oxidized (NF, 23 Feb., 5). According to the official, the finding was consistent with the hypothesis the uranium was metallic fuel material for a DPRK-type production reactor.
Second, Hibbs goes on to relate that there’s not a great deal of research on the behavior of U particles under various conditions, but it’s generally accepted that if they are divided finely enough, they’ll oxidize all the way through.
Reading between the lines, it seems that the number of particles found in the swipe samples — now described by Hibbs as numbering close to 100 — is simply too many to be accounted for by cross-contamination. So much for “my pet theory”:http://www.totalwonkerr.net/1865/more-than-you-wanted-to-know-about-magnox. As long as we’re not talking about something off-the-wall, like HWR fuel — this was said to be a “Magnox”:http://www.totalwonkerr.net/1865/more-than-you-wanted-to-know-about-magnox reactor, remember? — then in the absence of additional information, it’s only reasonable to believe that there was a lot of uranium metal onsite, which was blasted into itty-bitty bits. (That’s a technical term.)
Hibbs also offers a great deal of insight into the state of attribution technology for particles of this type. The U.S. has traces of U from North Korea; is it sharing the “fingerprints” with the IAEA for purposes of comparison? We don’t know. But that Acton fellow has “written about the North Korea traces”:http://www.armscontrolwonk.com/2163/yet-more-on-nork-heu.
Lastly, it seems that the Syrian government has refused requests to return to the scene of the swipes to take more samples. Once stung, twice shy. This once again raises the question of when the IAEA will be willing to use its power of “special inspections”:http://www.totalwonkerr.net/1886/syria-ups-and-downs-of-special-inspections. Any day now, folks!
If the subject interests you, Pierre Goldschmidt makes special inspections Topic A in a recent paper on “strengthening the nonproliferation regime”:http://www.carnegieendowment.org/publications/?fa=view&id=22943&prog=zgp&proj=znpp. Some guy named James Acton also “spoke about this recently”:http://www.carnegieendowment.org/events/?fa=eventDetail&id=1300&prog=zgp&proj=zted.
I think I’ll go find something else to blog about now.
Hmm. The NF article talks about chemical and isotopic forensic methods — but what about the form of the uranium particles? In the bombed-reactor scenario, the small particles would presumably have been created when bulk uranium metal was struck by pieces of bomb casing or other objects in the surroundings. Wouldn’t that produce some characteristic particle shapes and sizes?