Satellite images show early stages of Syrian nuclear reactor

Published 24 October 2007

On 6 September Israel stealthily destroyed a target deep inside Syria; examination of satellite images taken of the site before it was destroyed leads independent experts to conclude that Syria might have been building a gas-graphite reactor of about 20 to 25 megawatts, similar to the reactor North Korea built at Yongbyon

The clouds may be lifting. The Washington Post’s Robin Wright and Joby Worrick write that independent nuclear experts have pinpointed the Euphrates River site in Syria which was bombed by Israel on 6 September. Satellite imagery of the area shows buildings under construction similar in design to a North Korean reactor capable of producing nuclear material for one bomb a year, these experts say. Photographs of the site taken before the secret airstrike depict an isolated compound which includes a tall, boxy structure similar to the type of building used to house a gas-graphite reactor. The images also show what could have been a pumping station used to supply cooling water for a reactor, say experts David Albright and Paul Brannan of the Institute for Science and InternationalSecurity (ISIS), a nonprofit research group which tracks nuclear weapons and stockpiles around the world. The Post’s writers say that U.S. and international experts and officials familiar with the site, who were shown the photographs yesterday, said there was a strong and credible possibility that they depict the remote compound that was attacked. If the facility is confirmed as the site of the attack, the photos provide a potential explanation for Israel’s middle-of-the-night bombing raid. The facility is located seven miles north of the desert village of At Tibnah, in the Dayr az Zawr region, and about ninety miles from the Iraqi border, according to the ISIS report to be released today. Albright, a physicist and former U.N. weapons inspector, said the size of the structures suggested that Syria might have been building a gas-graphite reactor of about 20 to 25 megawatts of heat, similar to the reactor North Korea built at Yongbyon. “I’m pretty convinced that Syria was trying to build a nuclear reactor,” Albright said.