Iraq accepts plan to test for A-arms

September 08, 1992|By New York Times News Service

MANAMA, Bahrain -- Iraq has accepted a United Nations proposal for a nationwide water sampling program to ensure that Baghdad does not covertly rebuild a nuclear arms program, the head of a U.N. inspection team said yesterday.

But a Bush administration official involved in nuclear non-proliferation policy said that environmental monitoring of this kind could not substitute for a continuing program of on-site inspections like those the United Nations has imposed on Iraq since the Persian Gulf war.

The Bush administration official, who requested anonymity, said that the United States supported the use of water monitoring because it could detect any hidden nuclear reactors being used to produce materials for atomic bombs. But he added that the approach is "not a panacea or a cure-all."

Maurizio Zifferero, the U.N. official, spent the past week in Iraq conducting inspections. He said the Iraqis had "immediately agreed" to allow the program of water sampling to begin because they viewed it as "non-intrusive."

The program would involve taking water samples to check for radioactivity that would be a telltale sign of any substantial nuclear program.

The technique works on the assumption that a nuclear reactor used to produce weapons-grade material would have to be cooled with water, which would carry traces of radioactivity once it was discharged.

Although the technique has been understood for years and may have been employed without publicity before, it is not known to have been used on such a wide scale.

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