Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Syrian "Reactor" and the Senate Hearing

Let's examine what is publicly available about what the CIA told the Senate today regarding the Syrian building that was destroyed by the Israelis last year. To recap, I have been a skeptic that this building housed a reactor facility for a number of reasons.

By the way, if any of you out there that catch a mistake on my part, please kick me an email at flagg707_at_gmail_dot_com.

First, some aerial recon photos. We will review these pictures going on the assumption that this is a nuclear reactor facility.



Nothing new here. This the building housing the "reactor." This does not appear to be a standard containment building. It appears to be a confinement building. This is not mere wordplay.

Containment means that the reactor vessel and associated equipment is surrounded by a thick concrete shell. This concrete shell is built to withstand overpressures within the structure, in case of a rupture or steam line break which would cause an explosion. It is built to "contain" the results of a catastrophic failure of the reactor vessel. Secondarily, such structures are generally built to withstand airplane impacts and other hazards exterior to the reactor.

Confinement is a less-robust means of enclosing the reactor. In the U.S. you will see "confinement" structures over small research reactors. Perhaps the Syrians decided just to use confinement. That makes little technical sense, but nothing about this story makes any technical sense.

These two pictures are interesting. This shows why I regard the structure as "confinement" and not "containment." Containment structures are made from "single-pour" concrete. This does not appear to be a single-pour structure, but it may just be a bad angle.



And here is the money-shot. The above picture is the clincher for me. The aerial photos are all ambiguous at best. Those overhead shots could be anything. This picture here, however, would sway me from the strong skeptic camp to stunned acceptance that yes, the Syrians were building a reactor. Let's compare the above picture to a picture from the Yongbyon reactor in North Korea:


Image courtesy Armscontrolwonk

Alarm bells are going off now. I would never have believed the Syrians to be so stupid - as my previous posts indicated. Next, if you are interested, here is the video presentation from the CIA. Assuming that this is not Israeli disinfo, big props to their spy for the pics:




Online Videos by Veoh.com

Recap

I had believed that there was no way the Israelis attacked a nuclear reactor last year. The Syrians would never be so stupid as to believe they could build a reactor and hide it from the Israelis I reasoned, in addition to the many technical issues:

  1. As soon as you start up a reactor, radioactive noble gases are released and are practically impossible to contain. There are detectors all over the world set up to detect just such fission product gases. As soon as Syria began operation, someone was going to know.
  2. Where's the fuel reprocessing and the plutonium processing facilities? Whether the Syrians were going to use REDOX, PUREX, UREX, or some other processing to remove the plutonium from the fuel, it would require substantial infrastructure that is nowhere to be found. Burning fuel rods gains them nothing without the ability to pull out the plutonium, cast it, work and weaponize it.
  3. Where's the waste handling system? When you reprocess used nuclear fuel, it generates waste streams that must be taken into account, especially if you are trying to hide a clandestine nuclear program. This would not be a trivial facility.
  4. Where was the fuel going to come from?
  5. Where did or where was Syria going to get nuclear-grade graphite to operate the reactor? It takes a very high-purity form of graphite to serve as a moderator in this type of reactor. Natural graphite carries with it significant quantities of boron, a neutron poison, that would render a reactor built with it useless.

Implications

There are only two real implications from the data above:

The Syrian governing elites are retarded. Seriously. How could they think they could get away with building such a facility? How?

Or, the Israelis are playing a very risky game and spreading disinformation in an effort to secure U.S. support when they attack Hezbollah and Syria in the coming months. This also has holes in it.

While I am not Israel's biggest fan (I still remember the U.S.S. Liberty and think Jonathan Pollard should have been taken out and shot at the gate of the Israeli embassy, his body left to rot in the sun for a week) I would not think they would play such a game, especially since all Syria would have to do is open up the site to the IAEA as soon as the bombing ended.

The Syrians did NOT open up the site after the bombing ended.

The above pictures are consistent with a reactor under construction. As unbelievable as it may sound, I have to say that I have been swayed and believe the idiots were really trying to build a reactor.

I can't tell you why - they sure as hell weren't going to be making a bomb any time soon.

Endgame

Goodbye Assad. I imagine Vegas will put a line out on how long you last once Israel begins the next round of beat-downs in the Middle East - probably some time in late May or early June. My guess is the over/under will be somewhere around two weeks.

I was wrong in my earlier assessments, it appears. I was basing my assumptions on Syria acting like a rational player that knew the Israelis had thoroughly penetrated every aspect of her governing elites. People that stupid deserve what they get. Especially when you think you can play around with nukes, because, as we've discussed before, Amateurs Don't Do Nuclear Weapons.

Follow-up

I suggest you check out Fabius Maximus' blog over the coming weeks. He's been doing an excellent analysis of how aspects of the Iraq war are being covered by different portions of the media and blogosphere. If, as I expect, Syria and Hezbollah wind up on the receiving end of significant ordnance in the coming months, I'm sure he will be providing the same valuable service for that conflict as well.

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