A photo of the reactor vessel in the reactor hall before concrete is poured in the covert nuclear reactor built in Syria's eastern desert near Al Kibar, according to a narrated video.
"Break the Silence on Syria's Nuclear Program"
Three years after Israel destroyed its Al-Kibar reactor, the Bashar Assad regime continues to stonewall the IAEA.
Op-Ed, Wall Street Journal
December 6, 2010
Authors: Graham Allison, Director, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs; Douglas Dillon Professor of Government, Harvard Kennedy School, Olli Heinonen, Senior Fellow, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
The United States has joined other major powers in a dangerous conspiracy of silence on Syria's nuclear program. Syria foreswore nuclear weapons when it ratified the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in 1969. To assure the world that it is fulfilling that commitment, Syria also signed a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 1992.
Yet Syria was able to secretly buy a nuclear reactor from North Korea, a country facing the most restrictive sanctions regime in the world. If Israel had not bombed the Al-Kibar reactor site in an air strike in September 2007, it would be producing plutonium by now for Syria's first nuclear bomb.
But this violation of Syria's treaty commitments was not discovered by IAEA inspectors. And the program was not halted by the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. So it has been convenient for world powers to let Syria slip off the radar and to move on as if these events had not occurred.
It is by no means certain that Damascus has given up its nuclear ambitions. Since November 2008, nine IAEA reports (the latest released last month) have documented Syria's noncompliance with its requests for more details about its nuclear program.
Syria has not provided plausible explanations for the presence of man-made uranium particles found by the IAEA in 2008 at Dair Alzour, the site of the bombed reactor. More worrying, the agency has discovered uranium conversion experiments at a research reactor in Damascus, which Syria had failed to report. (Uranium conversion is a necessary step toward creating weapons-grade uranium.)
Syria has acknowledged that it has used yellowcake (necessary to initiate uranium enrichment) in these experiments from the Homs facility, which benefited from IAEA technical assistance. However, it has not provided access to the facility, saying it will postpone substantive discussions and verification of these materials until March or April 2011.
It is essential that the IAEA establish whether there is a link between the uranium found in Dair Alzour, Homs, and the research reactor in Damascus to ensure that all nuclear material in Syria is declared to the world's international nuclear watchman. But there has been no progress in establishing facts about the destroyed reactor or three other locations that may be functionally related to it. Syria continues to argue that due to the military and nonnuclear nature of these sites, it has no obligation to provide more information to the IAEA. But the safeguards agreement contains no such limitation on access to information, activities or sites.
The design of the Dair Alzour project appears very similar to the North Korean reactor in Yongbyon. And North Korea is capable of producing fuel for such a reactor.
We recently learned from U.S. nuclear expert Siegfried Hecker that North Korea, with Pakistan's help, has been able to build a small uranium enrichment facility. Syrian President Bashar Assad told the Austrian newspaper Die Presse in December 207 that Pakistani nuclear proliferator A.Q. Khan had offered his nuclear technology to Syria. Many Syrian engineers and scientists would have been involved in the Dair Alzour project. What are they doing today, three years after that site was bombed?
While Syria stalls, the authority of the whole nonproliferation regime is eroding. This sets another unwelcome precedent for future proliferators.
A feasible next step is readily available. According to Syria's contract with the IAEA, the agency must be provided access to locations that have benefited from its technical support. More specifically, the safeguards agreement allows the IAEA to conduct a "special inspection" of the Dair Alzour site and other suspected sites. On Dec. 3, a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers called upon President Obama to press the IAEA to conduct such an inspection. Otherwise, the world risks awakening to a Syria that has become the next North Korea.
Mr. Allison is director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University's Kennedy School and author of "Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe" (Times Books, 2004). Mr. Heinonen is a former deputy director of the IAEA and is now a senior fellow at the Belfer Center.
For more information about this publication please contact the Belfer Center Communications Office at 617-495-9858.
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