The Lord’s our shepherd, says the psalm, but just in case…

On 6 Sep 2007, Israel bombed the hell out of a facility in Syria which, rumor has it, was nuclear in nature. Today the CIA gave a presentation to Congress showing the detailed evidence, which the Washington Post has kindly presented here.

Some conclusions from looking at this, and being generally familiar with nuclear equipment. This is very, very different from the rather dubious WMD intel used in Iraq; rather than fuzzy satellite photos, someone appears to have been able to walk around and inside the building during its construction with a camera and take pretty clear pictures, which can then be compared in detail with some very good-quality satellite photos.1

Assuming that the pictures are real, they are a smoking gun.2 This building was a nuclear reactor; it was of a type that can be used to produce Plutonium for nuclear weapons, but is utterly useless for any research or power generation purpose;3 it appears to be a slightly smaller4 carbon copy of the North Korean Plutonium production reactor at Yongbyon; it was in a shape that could probably be started up within weeks when it was destroyed; there is clear and repeated evidence of extensive NORK involvement in its design, construction, and operation.

Now, a more interesting question. This reactor was obviously very close to startup, which means they had to have nuclear fuel lying around somewhere in fairly large volumes. (There’s no evidence at all that Syria was working on the ability to enrich Uranium on their own, as Iran is) I’m guessing that the bombing didn’t hit a large fuel storage area, since everyone else would have noticed clouds of radioactive soot and dust and generally been a lot more worried. Presumably this fuel came from some combination of North Korea, Russia and Pakistan. (Those being the three people with fuel who would even remotely consider doing business with Syria)

So… where is it?

Presumably Syria’s next move is to try to build again, this time deep underground. NORK nuke people were on-site within days of the original attack, probably to do damage assessment; my guess is that they would tell al-Assad that this is what he gets for trying to build on the cheap in the desert, and if he really wants to protect his sites he’ll invest in their better-concealed designs. This is going to lead to something a lot harder to find and destroy. The main things which would prevent that is if the Syrians started to run low on money, or if the government suddenly found itself with enough bigger problems on its hands that extremely expensive construction projects became less enticing.


1 Whereas the Iraqi WMD photos that Colin Powell infamously presented to the U.N. were largely satellite photos with analyses explaining why this particular group of trailers could be a bio weapons plant, that group of trailers could be a chemical weapons storage facility. There was never anything up-close or really unambiguous there; at least, nothing that anyone outside the CIA ever seems to have seen.

2 Well, at this point, more like a smoking hole in the ground, but I digress.

3 It’s not good for power generation for a couple of reasons, but the most obvious one is that there’s no power plant attached to it, and the building very obviously has no room to attach one. The cooling system is simply transporting heat as quickly as possible into the Euphrates river, rather than using that heat to drive a turbine. Also, this would be a very bizarre place to build a power plant, since it was in the middle of nowhere in the desert. (And goats don’t really need that much electricity) It’s not good for research because the entire reactor vessel was placed about as inconveniently for experimenting with it as is humanly possible, it has almost no access points for probes or tweaks (as is clear from the top and side pictures), and this general design is very inflexible. Of course, Syria isn’t exactly famous for its physics research, so one can’t imagine that there was really an active cutting-edge science program going on there for other reasons as well.

4 Count the holes on the top for reactor rods; this one is 9 holes across at the top, Yongbyon is 11, but it’s clearly a scaled-down carbon copy of the design.

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Published in: on April 24, 2008 at 21:02  Comments Off on The Lord’s our shepherd, says the psalm, but just in case…  
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