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Nuclear watchdog a tough team to fool

Vienna, Nov. 18 (Reuters): UN weapons inspectors may be in the dark about what has gone on in Iraq for the last four years, but the UN’s nuclear watchdog said today the technological leaps of the last half decade make them a tough team to fool.

Advance teams led by chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix and head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Mohamed ElBaradei arrived in Baghdad today, four years after inspectors left on the eve of a US-British bombing campaign.

Under the threat of a possible US attack, Iraq — which denies it is developing weapons of mass destruction — allowed the return of inspectors and vowed to fully cooperate with them.

Armed with a tough new UN Security Council resolution permitting them to go anywhere, anytime in Iraq, inspectors will be using dozens of new devices that enable them to work faster and more effectively than before they left in December 1998.

One of the speedy little machines the IAEA’s Iraq action team will have is the Ranger, a portable radiation detector.

Not much bigger than a large flashlight, this device is lighter and faster than the bulky machines used in the old days.

“The first thing you need is something that will allow you to detect gamma radiation,” a UN official close to the weapons inspectors said. “That’s what the Ranger’s for.”

But traces of radiation indicating Iraq has tried to revive its nuclear weapons programme are not the only things the UN’s nuclear sleuths under chief nuclear inspector Jacques Baute will be hunting for.

Another gadget inspectors will have on hand sports the friendly name Alex.

This bright-yellow machine, about the size of a small chainsaw, quickly analyses the composition of metals to root out traces of substances useable in nuclear weapons.

“For example, to make UF6 (uranium hexafluoride), you have to use hydrochloric acid. Then you’d need a copper-based tank,” the official said, adding that Alex could easily detect minute copper traces.

Blix’s UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, which will hunt for biological, chemical and ballistic weapons, have a similar device called HANAA that can detect traces of anthrax and other lethal germs in minutes.

In addition to the pocket-sized laboratories inspectors will use to analyse soil, water and swabs of Iraqi offices, factories and labs.

The IAEA official said that the 21-person nuclear weapons inspection team was deceptively small, as the inspectors would be sending images, data, documents and other information to Vienna for the agency’s 2,600 staff to examine.

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