Posted by Joshua on Saturday, October 27th, 2007
More questions are being raised about the solidity of Washington's allegations that the site in Syria hit by Israel was a nuclear plant. A 2003 photo of the site has just been published by the NY Times, which forces us to go back to the four year old debates over whther Syria was developing nuclear power. Bolton and his neocon hawks lost the debate at the time. The CIA and State Department intelligence prevailed over neocon allegations. They argued that the Syrian danger was either being inflated or misread.
In the intervening years, Bolton has tried to make the case for a nuclear Syria three times. Each time he was wrong. The three times were: 1. He accused Syria of taking in Saddam's WMD and nuclear stuff. He was wrong. 2. He accused Syria of being part of the Khan, Pakistani ring of nuclear proliferators along with Libya. Wrong. Mohammed el Beradae said no indication of this existed and challenged Bolton, who backed down. 3. Finally, a ship traveling from North Korea to Syria was stopped in Nicosia, Cyprus and searched because Interpol indicated it was transporting nuclear technology. It turned out to have nothing but defensive missile technology aboard. It was allowed to continue on its way. Three times Bolton tried to accuse Syria of developing nuclear weapons and came up short. What is different about this time?
The mystery surrounding the construction of what might have been a nuclear reactor in Syria deepened yesterday, when a company released a satellite photo showing that the main building was well under way in September 2003 — four years before Israeli jets bombed it.
The long genesis is likely to raise questions about whether the Bush administration overlooked a nascent atomic threat in Syria while planning and executing a war in Iraq, which was later found to have no active nuclear program.
A senior American intelligence official said yesterday that American analysts had looked carefully at the site from its early days, but were unsure then whether it posed a nuclear threat. …
In the summer of 2003, Mr. Bolton’s testimony on Capitol Hill was delayed after a dispute erupted in part over whether Syria was actively pursuing a nuclear weapon. Some intelligence officials said Mr. Bolton overstated the Syrian threat.
“There was disagreement about what Syria was interested in and how much we should be monitoring it,” Mr. Bolton said in an interview yesterday. “There was activity in Syria that I felt was evidence that they were trying to develop a nuclear program.”
Mr. Bolton declined to say whether he had knowledge at the time about the site that the Israelis struck in September.
Spokesmen for the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Council declined to comment.
Phantoms Over Syria
Eveything Israel wants you to know about its secret airstrike
by Philip Giraldi
There are other reasons that depicting Damascus as the latest nuclear aspirant is suspect. Destroying a weapons facility would scatter traces of radioactive material that could be detected, especially since the attack took place close to the Turkish border. No such evidence has been reported. Also notable is the absence of solid intelligence. If Israel knows conclusively that Syria has a nuclear program, surely it would have made its case in the wake of the Sept. 6 raid. Far from doing so, Tel Aviv has kept a security lid on the incident, suggesting that it would prefer to promote the story of a military success against Damascus without being too specific about the details.
Even the Bush White House, generally willing to use any hint of malfeasance to condemn Damascus and Tehran, has been reluctant to confirm the story. It doesn’t need to. Official silence—narrated by a compliant press taking uncorroborated dictation—is cementing a public impression. That’s the way disinformation works. Done right, no one stops to ask where it came from—or who benefits……
Philip Giraldi, a former CIA Officer, is a partner in Cannistraro Associates, an international security consultancy.
A British civil engineer, who explains that his "father worked as an engineer in the British nuclear power industry on among, other items, refueling machines for gas-cooled reactors and fuel design for breeder reactors. I visited my first nuclear power station (a Magnox one) in my early teens." [The Syrian and North Korean sites were copied from a British Magnox prototype.] He writes
If the Syrian Ambassador says that the building hit was a military warehouse then I am inclined to believe him with the only qualification that if the building in the ISIS report was indeed the target then it could more accurately be described as a storage bunker.
The ISIS report states that the North Korean reactor is based on an old Russian design. This is rubbish, any expert would know that the North Koreans based their reactor on the old British Magnox design.
The building shown in the ISIS report does not correspond with existing known Magnox reactor sites for one very simple reason. Where are all the ancillary buildings? If you look at the Yongbyon site in North Korea or the Calder Hall and Chapelcross sites in the UK, you will see a large number of ancillary buildings which contain such facilities as canteens, washrooms and changing facilities laboratories and offices. Where are the spent fuel storage facilities?
For example, the Calder Hall site consists of 62 separate buildings – OK, there are four larger reactors at Calder Hall but I would certainly expect to see more than the "reactor building" and one additional building of indeterminate use. If you look at Yongbyon you will also see a fuel fabrication, plutonium reprocessing and laboratory facilities next door to the reactor. Fuel fabrication for the UK Magnox reactors was admittedly performed at another site (Springfield in Lancashire) but that was because the British intended to have a large civilian nuclear program as well and fuel reprocessing was performed at the Windscale next door to Calder Hall.
Now some may say that it is in the early stages of construction and that the ancillary building will appear later so where are the construction materials and the site offices – just look at any large construction project to see what I mean.
Magnox reactors are gas-cooled rather than water cooled so there would need to be a heat exchanger to transfer heat to the cooling water – no sign of that or the associated pipe work yet – so is the “pump” a pump?
The North Koreans have ringed the reactor at Yongbyon with 22 missile batteries according to the Global Security website – one would expect the Syrians to do something similar – they have done this at their alleged chemical weapons site at Al Saffir.
Finally, the building is not tall enough – the fuel channels in a Magnox reactor run vertically and the fuel elements need to be handled with a refuelling machine to protect the site workers from radiation from the spent fuel. Typically, there is one fuel element per channel so the refuelling machine needs to be taller than the reactor core is high. So, to accommodate the refuelling machine there needs to be a substantial space above the top of the reactor. The two ISIS analysts allude to this in their comments:
The taller roof of North Korea’s reactor measures approximately 32 meters by 24 meters on its sides. There also appears to be a faint square on top of the Syrian building’s roof. It is unclear whether something would be built there, but its dimensions, 24 meters by 22 meters, are consistent with the subsequent construction of an upper roof.
To build a reinforced concrete roof and then almost immediately cut a hole in it to build an extension on top is just plain stupid. Once you start assembling the reactor core out of graphite blocks, there is no way that you would contemplate further unnecessary construction work above that.
High Wycombe, UK
Yesterday William Arkin wrote that it was “hard to believe that Syria … is stupid enough to think it could build a nuclear reactor and get away with it”.
Steve Clemons raises the same question:
“But on a more theoretical level, I guess one question I have is why would Syria even start down that path given all that Iran is now going through. Missile enhancements seems understandable — but this nuke path, if correct, doesn’t make strategic sense.”
The Washington Note