SYRIAN REACTOR UPDATE….David Albright and Paul Brannan of ISIS have produced a short report based on digital imagery from August that claims to have located the Syrian site that was bombed by Israel in September. Their conclusion: it looks pretty similar to a North Korean reactor:
This site is approximately 145 kilometers from the Iraqi border and situated 11 kilometers north of At Tibnah in the Dayr az Zawr region of Syria.
….In comparing the five megawatt-electric (or 20-25 megawatt- thermal) reactor building at North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear facility to this suspected Syrian reactor building, the length of the outer walls of the structures are approximately the same (see Figures 4 and 5). 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. From the image, the Syrian building is similar in shape to the North Korean reactor building, but the Syrian building is not far enough along in its construction to make a definitive comparison.
If the design of the reactor is similar to a North Korean reactor, it is likely a small gas-graphite reactor of the type North Korea built at the Yongbyon nuclear site north of Pyongyang. The Syrian building size suggests that the reactor would be in the range of about 20-25 megawatts-thermal, large enough to make about one nuclear weapon’s worth of plutonium each year.
This is, obviously, raw data with an emphasis on “raw.” Albright is a relatively straight shooter, but North Korean reactors don’t have a distinctive design, so all we’ve got here is a group of squarish buildings that are roughly the same size as a group of squarish buildings at Yongbyon. We also don’t have imagery of this site from September, which would tell us if this is really the location that was bombed by the Israelis. The Washington Post has a bit more:
“You can look at North Korea’s [reactor] buildings, and they look like nothing,” said John E. Pike, a nuclear expert and director of GlobalSecurity.org. “They’re just metal-skinned industrial buildings.” The proximity of the building to a water source also is not significant by itself, Pike said.
….The International Atomic Energy Agency has acquired its own aerial photographs but has not finished analyzing them, according to an IAEA source.
In an interview published yesterday, IAEA director and Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei expressed anger at the Syrians, Israelis and foreign intelligence agencies for not providing information about a suspected nuclear program.
“We have said, ‘If any of you has the slightest information showing that there was anything linked to nuclear, we would of course be happy to investigate it,’ ” he told the French newspaper Le Monde. “Frankly, I venture to hope that before people decide to bombard and use force, they will come and see us to convey their concerns.”
As always, this is just information at this point. It’s not spin from Dick Cheney’s shop, which is a point in its favor, but it’s also a million miles from conclusive. I still don’t know what’s going on any more than anyone else.