Today’s Scary Syria/Iran Nuke Story

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.

This post was read 153 times.

About author View all posts

Steve Hynd

Most recently I was Editor in Chief of The Agonist from Feb 2012 to Feb 2013. My blogging began at Newshoggers and I’ve had the immense pleasure of working with some great writers there and around the web ever since, including at Crooks & Liars. I'm a late 40′s, Scottish ex-pat, now married to a wonderful Texan, with Honours in Philosophy from Univ. of Stirling, UK 1986. I worked most of life in business insurance industry (fire, accident, liability) including 12 years as a broker/underwriter/correspondent at Lloyd’s of London. Being from the other side of the pond, my political interests tend to focus on how US foreign policy affects the rest of the planet. Other interests include early and dark-ages British history, literature and cognitive philosophy/science.

4 CommentsLeave a comment

  • One (only one) of the dumb things about the 2003 invasion of Iraq was that no effort was made to secure the nuclear sites. Al-Tuwaitha held a known stockpile of yellowcake in stainless steel drums. Once security was removed from the site, local people dumped the yellowcake in order to get those nice drums for water storage. I don’t know whether the yellowcake was cleaned up, but I suspect it has been. This was not a major part of the war damage in Iraq.

    The point of the strike on al-Kibar was that it supposedly took place before the putative reactor was loaded. The proof of a reactor at that site is still sketchy. The IAEA has claimed to have recovered “anthropogenic” (man-made, processed in some way) uranium particles from the site, as the article notes, in trace amounts. If fuel elements were not present, where did that uranium come from? How was what the IAEA found processed?

    If Syria has a stockpile of uranium, in what form does it exist? Yellowcake? Could be. Enriched uranium, as hexafluoride or oxide or partially or fully manufactured fuel elements would have had to come from outside Syria, which does not have those processing facilities. North Korea is the possible supplier most often mentioned, so there would not necessarily be information outside those two countries on a transfer of material.

    Yellowcake is a minor problem at best, from a dispersal standpoint. The others would be slightly more so, but not a lot. Uranium is not highly radioactive, although it is a heavy metal. There are much more dangerous things being dispersed around Syria.

    • I believe they also reported that they had recovered extensive evidence of highly purified graphite (i.e., purified to a level only associated with use as a moderator) from the site.

      If the al-Kibar facility was close to being loaded with fuel as has been asserted, it suggests that at the maximum worst case scenario there could be actual fuel assemblies in country. I’m not sure whether I buy that – I would not be at all surprised to find that they purchased the first fuel load and wanted to produce their own only with subsequent loads. You’d want to surge this sort of thing – once the reactor is fuelled and running, it can’t be hit effectively. If you’re the NORK’s you’d want to hang onto that for as long as possible (and extort as much money out of the Syrians as possible). If I had to bet, I’d bet on yellowcake.

      It’s important to note that the UCF is not co-located with the helo bases (there are actually two of them). The UCF is located at 33°29’42.47″N 36°26’26.46″E . The level of site security is not extreme at all. One interesting thing is that the general region has more swimming pools than I have ever seen in overheads of the country – makes me wonder whether this is some sort of regime loyalist area.

Leave a Reply