Monday, May 12, 2008

How Syria hid its nukes

With forty 'developing countries' seeking nuclear capabilities (only for civilian energy purposes of course /sarc), the Washington Post reports today on how the Syrians managed to hide the construction of a nuclear plant from the world almost until the very end (Hat Tip: Hot Air).

U.S. and Israeli officials have said the facility was a nearly completed nuclear reactor built with North Korean help and fitted with a false roof and walls that altered its shape when viewed from above.

According to the ISIS report to be released this week, the fake roof was just the start. Syrian engineers went to "astonishing lengths" to hide cooling and ventilation systems, power lines and other features that normally are telltale signs of a nuclear reactor, authors David Albright and Paul Brannan wrote.

For example, the main building appears small and shallow from the air, but it was evidently built over large underground chambers -- tens of meters in depth -- that were large enough to house the nuclear reactor, as well as a reserve water-storage tank and pools for spent fuel rods, the report said.

An extensive network of electrical lines appears to have been buried in trenches. Traditional water-cooling towers were replaced with an elaborate underground system that discharged into the Euphrates River. And, instead of using smokestack-like ventilation towers prominent at many reactor sites, the ventilation system appears to have been built along the walls of the building, with louver openings not visible from the air, the authors contended.

The ISIS report noted that early skepticism that Syria was building a reactor there was based partly on the observable absence of revealing features. "The current domestic and international capabilities to detect nuclear facilities and activities are not adequate to prevent more surprises in the future," the report warned.

Albright, a former U.N. weapons inspector, said his conclusions were based not only on photographs of the Syrian site but also on interviews with government officials who closely monitored the facility while it was under construction.

By the way, those forty countries aren't going to come as a surprise to most of you. Many of them are right here in this region:

Although the United Arab Emirates has a proven oil reserve of 100 billion barrels, the world's sixth-largest, in January it signed a deal with a French company to build two nuclear reactors. Wealthy neighbors Kuwait and Bahrain are also planning nuclear plants, as are Libya, Algeria and Morocco in North Africa and the kingdom of Jordan.

Even Yemen, one of the poorest countries in the Arab world, last year announced plans to purchase a nuclear reactor, which it says is needed to produce electricity; it is one of 11 Middle Eastern states now engaged in starting or expanding nuclear power programs.

Meanwhile, two of Iran's biggest rivals in the region, Turkey and Egypt, are moving forward with ambitious nuclear projects. Both countries abandoned any pursuit of nuclear power decades ago but are now on course to develop seven nuclear power plants -- four in Egypt and three in Turkey -- over the next decade.


"Why would these Gulf states want to go nuclear? Because they know their oil will only become more valuable as global demand increases," McDonald said. "It may be more cost-effective to sell oil to Americans driving SUVs than to burn it domestically."

You've got to be kidding. The amount of oil those countries use domestically is minimal compared with the amount of power a nuclear plant can produce.

But nuclear power can give a country the technological expertise and infrastructure that could become the foundation for a clandestine weapons program.

Such covert programs can be successfully hidden for years, as was demonstrated in recent months by U.S. and Israeli allegations that Syria was building a secret plutonium production reactor near the desert town of Al Kibar. Plutonium is an efficient fuel for nuclear explosions, as well as for power generation.

Both India and Pakistan built nuclear devices using an industrial infrastructure built ostensibly for nuclear power. Taiwan and South Korea conducted weapons research under cover of civil power programs but halted the work after being confronted by the United States.

Gee, ya think? Why would all those Persian Gulf countries want nuclear weapons? I wonder....

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