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Technology May Aid Iraq Inspections

September 20, 2002|From Times Wire Services

VIENNA — Despite a four-year absence from Iraq, the U.N.'s top nuclear weapons inspector said Thursday that his team is armed with information that will help it look for signs of a clandestine atomic weapons program if it is sent back to Baghdad.

The International Atomic Energy Agency's core team of 18 nuclear inspectors will rely heavily on new sleuthing technology if its members are deployed to uncover evidence that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein may have concealed, head inspector Jacques Baute told reporters.

"We're like policemen trying to find one murderer among millions of people," Baute conceded. "The probability seems quite low. The group of inspectors is small, while the country is quite big.

"But if you use the right techniques, the chances become quite good," he added. "A nuclear program needs a large infrastructure. That's something that benefits us."

Baute said the four-year hiatus--during which detection technology and analytical tools and software have improved dramatically--has not been wasted time.

"We've used the last four years to analyze in detail the masses of data that we had collected" from 1991 to 1998. "We have a plan.... We are ready to leave at short notice."

Baute said the team has photographs, soil and water samples, and hundreds of hours of video footage, all of which has been painstakingly analyzed.

"We're not expecting to find a full-blown [uranium] enrichment facility," he said. "Small-scale operations are difficult to find. But there are plenty of nuclear operations that can induce leaks and leave traces in the atmosphere, soil and plants. We can find them."

The team will use two new gadgets: The Ranger, a portable scope that can detect gamma radiation, and Alex, a compact machine that can tell if a metal object is a potential nuclear component.

Inspectors also will be armed with global positioning systems and conventional radiation detection equipment. They will transmit data, still images and video back to Vienna for analysis via a secure digital link, Baute said.

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