Today’s bit of fearmongering over Iran’s nuclear program takes us to Syria, and a report in the Financial Times.
Nuclear experts have raised concerns about the security of up to 50 tonnes of unenriched uranium in Syria, amid fears that civil war could put the stockpile at risk.
The nuclear experts concerned being the duo of ISIS’ David Albright and IISS’ Mark Fitzpatrick, both of whom have spent years making scary Iran stories out of scraps of information leaked to them from Israel and insider pals at the IAEA. They’re talking about hypothetical raw uranium (in that there’s no evidence whatsoever that it actually exists) which would have eventually have been needed to power the Al-Kibar reactor (if that’s what it was) bombed by the Israelis in 2007.
David Albright, the head of the US-based Institute for Science and International Security think-tank, and a leading expert on the Iranian nuclear programme, said there were legitimate concerns about a uranium stockpile in Syria.
“There are real worries about what has happened to the uranium that Syria was planning to put into the Al-Kibar reactor shortly before the reactor was destroyed in 2007,” he said. “There’s no question that, as Syria gets engulfed in civil war, the whereabouts of this uranium is worrying governments. There is evidence to suggest this issue has been raised by one government directly with the IAEA.”
An IAEA inspection team visited the destroyed Al-Kibar site in May 2008 and only found traces of uranium. This merely added to the mystery of where the 50 tonnes of uranium, if it exists, might be. Such a stockpile would be enough, according to experts, to provide weapons grade fuel for five atomic devices.
Some government officials have raised concerns that Iran, which is closely allied to the Syrian regime and urgently needs uranium for its nuclear programme, might be trying to seize such a stockpile.
These officials’ fears have been triggered by signs of movement at what they allege is a secret uranium conversion facility that the Syrian regime built at the town of Marj al-Sultan near Damascus.
Which government officials from which government? We don’t know for sure — but I’m sure we can guess.
Whether the uranium is at the site is unclear, the officials conceded. But they said: “Syria is almost certainly in possession of good quality uranium of the type that Iran has been trying to acquire on the international market for years. It would certainly be possible to transfer this from Syria to Iran by air.”
Were that to happen – and Iran were to attempt to build another secret uranium plant – such a stockpile could be a “vital resource”, the officials argued, and possibly be used to build a bomb.
The country from which these officials hails is secret, but starts with “I” and ends in “srael”.
Evidence for this scary story about hypothetical uranium involved Albright’s favorite prop – satellite photos.
Mr Albright has acquired his own satellite pictures of the Marj al-Sultan site and said these showed that the Syrian authorities have built defensive trenches around the facility. The photographs also appeared to show evidence of damage normally associated with military attacks.
“You could draw the conclusion that there may be something at this site that the Syrian authorities are keen to defend from opposition forces,” Mr Albright said. “It would be interesting to know what it is.”
Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institute for Strategic Studies think-tank said: “It has always been a mystery where the fuel was coming from for Al-Kibar. There is reason to believe there is uranium in Syria and that would be of value to Iran.”
However, Albright and Fitzpatrick should spend less time with their Israeli handlers and more time reading the news. The whole Marj al-Sultan area including the military base there, about 15km from Damascus, was overrun by the rebels back in November.