Skip to comments.Israelis hit Syrian ‘nuclear bomb plant’(using N. Korean plutonium)
Posted on 12/02/2007 2:49:01 AM PST by TigerLikesRooster
Israelis hit Syrian nuclear bomb plant
Uzi Mahnaimi in Tel Aviv and Michael Sheridan in Seoul
ISRAELS top-secret air raid on Syria in September destroyed a bomb factory assembling warheads fuelled by North Korean plutonium, a leading Israeli nuclear expert has told The Sunday Times.
Professor Uzi Even of Tel Aviv University was one of the founders of the Israeli nuclear reactor at Dimona, the source of the Jewish states undeclared nuclear arsenal.
I suspect that it was a plant for processing plutonium, namely, a factory for assembling the bomb, he said. I think the DPRK [Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea] transferred to Syria weapons-grade plutonium in raw form, that is nuggets of easily transported metal in protective cans. I think the shaping and casting of the plutonium was supposed to be in Syria.
All governments concerned - even the regime in Damascus - have tried to maintain complete secrecy about the raid.
They apparently fear that forcing a confrontation on the issue could spark a war between Israel and Syria, end the Middle East peace talks and wreck Americas extremely complex negotiations to disarm North Korea of its nuclear weapons.
The political stakes could hardly be higher. Plutonium is the element which fuelled the American atomic bomb that destroyed the Japanese city of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945.
Critics in the United States say proof that North Korea supplied such nuclear weapons material to Syria, a state technically at war with Israel, would shatter congressional confidence in the Bush administrations diplomatic policy.
From beneath the veil of military censorship, western commentators have formed a consensus that the target was a nuclear reactor under construction.
But Even said that purely from scientific observation, he had reached a different conclusion - that it was a nuclear bomb factory, posing a more immediate danger to Israel. He said that satellite photos of the site, taken before the Israeli strike on September 6, showed no sign of the cooling towers and chimneys characteristic of nuclear reactors.
Syrias haste after the attack to bury the site under tons of soil suggested that hundreds of square yards were contaminated and there were fears of radiation, the professor added.
Since then the Syrians have sealed up the location, levelled the site and diverted curious journalists to a place that had not been attacked by Israel.
The professors theory fits with authoritative technical evidence about North Koreas nuclear weapons programme. The North Koreans are able to produce weapons-grade plutonium, which is electro-refined, alloyed and cast into shapes ready to be machined to fit into a warhead, according to a team of distinguished American nuclear weapons scientists who visited the countrys laboratories.
One of those scientists, Siegfried Hecker, was allowed to hold a sample and was told that it was good bomb grade plutonium, because it had a very low content of plutonium240, the isotope which reduces the overall quality of the material.
Assembly of a Nagasaki-type bomb involves mating a plutonium core with a uranium wrap and inserting a small quantity of polonium and beryllium to initiate the chain reaction.
Plutonium is highly dangerous material, explained the Israeli professor. It is easily oxidised in air unless protective measures are taken. The oxide is easily dispersed as dust in air when machining plutonium to create the pit [a hollow sphere in many nuclear weapons] and thus can be inhaled, causing a fatality in minute quantities.
Plutonium pellets are handled and machined exclusively in a large array of glove boxes, to protect the technicians and their environment. That is why you need a relatively large containment building and cannot assemble a nuclear weapon in your garage - unless you are suicidal of course.
The debris from a destructive raid on a weapons-building facility could therefore contain toxic radioactive waste. But the main danger for Syria would be the telltale exposure of the elements to surveillance and detection by America. This would explain the cover-up at the site.
North Korea, for its part, has more than enough plutonium to sell some of its stock to Syria.
The same team of visiting US scientists estimated that by late 2006 the nation had made 40-50kg (88-100lb) of the material. Between six and eight kilograms are needed for a weapon.
For the US and its allies the Syrian connection raises the deeply worrying possibility that North Korea has succeeded in building what the US scientists called a sophisticated design with smaller dimensions and mass so as to fit onto a . . . medium-range missile.
That puzzle was complicated when North Korea announced that it had tested its first nuclear bomb on October 9 last year. The yield of the blast was small - less than a 20th of the Nagasaki bomb - suggesting to some scientists that the device was sophisticated and small while others believed the North Koreans had simply not made a very good bomb.
Professor Even believes the North Koreans have not yet perfected small warheads. The mechanical dimensioning at this stage is extremely demanding (less than 0.01mm). So is the casting of the explosives around the plutonium core and the initiation of the implosion, he said.
The question is under urgent study by nations who might one day be targets of a North Korean device sold to Syria or Iran. Iran is known to have financed missile and weapons deals between North Korea and Syria, causing concern to Israel and the US. One day after the Israeli attack, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, sent his nephew with a personal letter to Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian leader.
The professors theory of a clear and present danger that Damascus would get the bomb may be the only credible explanation why Israel carried out a military strike against Syria and risked an all-out conflict.
Indeed on September 6 Israel was ready for war with Syria. Israeli sources said its military chiefs assumed Syria would launch a retaliatory attack, but no reprisal came.
Meanwhile, President Bush has authorised his chief negotiator, Christopher Hill, to go on talking to North Korea in the search for a peaceful solution. Hill will visit Pyongyang this week to pursue negotiations after international technicians got to work on disabling the reactor at Yongbyon, the source of North Koreas plutonium.
The North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il is supposed to make a full declaration of his nuclear programmes by December 31. The US says that must include information on his weapons deals with Syria and Iran.
TOO much talking, not enough action.
You have a good tag line.
“Pyongyang must reveal the amount of plutonium it has extracted; the reality of its uranium enrichment program; and the alleged transfer of nuclear technology and materials to other countries such as Syria, the sources said.”
U.S. to set 3 more tasks for N. Korea / New hurdles for delisting as terror sponsor
Takashi Sakamoto / Yomiuri Shimbun Correspondent
WASHINGTON—The U.S. government has decided to impose three new conditions for removing North Korea from Washington’s list of state sponsors of terrorism, sources close to the six-party talks said Friday.
Pyongyang must reveal the amount of plutonium it has extracted; the reality of its uranium enrichment program; and the alleged transfer of nuclear technology and materials to other countries such as Syria, the sources said.
These points should be made clear when North Korea completes its declaration of its nuclear programs by the end of this year, the sources added.
The new conditions will be in addition to the current U.S. requirement that North Korea complete the disablement of its nuclear facilities.
It is now likely that North Korea will not be removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism anytime soon, since it is unlikely that the country will accept all four conditions, the sources said.
It is believed that the United States and North Korea had agreed on the removal of the reclusive state from the terrorism sponsor list and punitive measures mandated by the U.S. Trading with the Enemy Act in return for Pyongyang disabling its nuclear facilities and fully declaring its nuclear programs by year’s end.
Although the background of the new U.S. measures is unclear, the U.S. government is believed to have taken into consideration Japan’s strong demand to keep North Korea on the terrorism sponsor list.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, the chief U.S. delegate for the six-party talks, said Thursday in Seoul that North Korea “is required to list all of their [nuclear] programs, facilities and all of the materials. That is what the declaration is for.” Hill will travel to Pyongyang on Monday and stay there until Wednesday.
However, North Korea has not submitted an initial draft nuclear listing, even though only one month remains before the the deadline to complete the declaration.
In relation to the three new conditions, North Korea has flatly denied the existence of an uranium enrichment program and of providing nuclear technology and materials to other countries.
It is also believed that North Korea is reluctant to declare its current nuclear weaponry stockpile, including plutonium, which is used to make nuclear bombs and warheads.
Hill is scheduled to meet North Korea’s chief nuclear envoy, Vice Foreign Minister Kim Gye Gwan. However, negotiations on the declaration are likely to face rough going unless North Korea changes its stance.
Chief delegates to the six-party talks, scheduled to meet next week in Beijing, will highly likely face difficulties while discussing the declaration.
A bigger story would be the destruction of all of Iran’s oil facilities.
Bush's fault. He should take out the "Axis of Evil" before it's too late.
While I don’t have a link, I remember “not a reactor, but a bomb assembly plant” being speculated upon in another thread, probably a week or so ago.
Why wasn’t an emergeancy meeting of the UN Security Council called?
We were in Jerusalem last week and the Israeli’s re-arrested the guy who originally revealed their bomb program.
It appeared that he had re-entered Israel with a British tour group. He was arrested at the Notre Dame Hotel.
I don’t think that has hit the press yet..but my wife was present at the time.
With that in mind, has Iran been taunting Israel to strike one of Iran’s nuke sites so that Iran can retaliate with nuclear weapons while claiming self defense. Obviously Iran knows Israel will retaliate - what’s left of it - but do they really care? They need major destruction all around to bring the 12’th Imam from his hole...
Why the H... don’t we just nuke a few bad guys?
What good is it being a super power if we have to worry what other nations think? It’s not like they would do anything but talk and condemn us. They do that anyway.
Wonder if there would be a nice blue glow on a night picture of the same site?
“would shatter congressional confidence in the Bush administrations diplomatic policy.”
This is the second similar report I’ve seen on this, but I believe both this and the earlier one cite the same source, because both specifically noted the absence of cooling towers on the overhead images of the facility.
I’ve worked in smaller test reactor facilities that did not require a cooling tower, a feature which is normally associated more with the steam turbine/cooling loops on the power side of production reactors than with test facility reactors where thermal energy extraction isn’t a priority.
Still, some form of fissionable material being onsite fits well with the following widely publicised aspects of the 9/6 IAF raid:
1. “Cement ship” (useful cover for shielding radiation emitters during transport)
2. “Soil samples” reported seized by IDF commandos before and after the raid
3. “Stun the world” and “WW-III” comments made after the raid, by a Netanyahu aide, an unnamed UK official, even President Bush
4. Syrian efforts to bury the site, with what appeared to me to be sand, after the raid. Certain sands contain significant quantities of boron, a neutron flux absorbant, and for this reason, helicopters dropped similar sands into the open reactor vessel at Chernobyl 4 after the reactor rapidly climbed out of its unstable “iodine well” just before a routine test and caused a LOCA event and explosion which displaced the biological shield, opening the pit to the outside world.
In simplest form then, we have two discussions, by one man, in two media outlets, speculating that plutonium, or at least fissionable material, was present at the Syrian facility, a conclusion which closely matches my own, however...
As this man is known by some as the “Father of Dimona”, it is reasonable to assume he has close contacts still in place with the cream of Israel’s nuclear community, at least some of whom would presumably have been involved in testing and identifying components present in any soil samples collected by IDF commandoes at the Syrian nuclear facility site.
Not conclusive, but compelling none the less.
I think it’s safe to assume Iran has anything Syria does, they signed a mutual defense pact a couple years ago, and there are numerous examples of military and financial cooperation in weapons acquisition between the two.
It’s important to note, however, that Korea’s lone nuclear test was a fizzle, and that Iran’s weapons program has been largely based on Pakistani assisstance, and to the best of my knowlege, Pakistan does not have a viable (or successfully tested)design for a plutonium weapon.
Iran may well be in position of having core fuel for a plutonium weapon, and blueprints for a Pakistani uranium core weapon design. Bridging a gap like that would take time, Pakistan’s nuclear expert Khan is supposedly off the market and in any event, generals are usually unwilling to bet their whole armies on untested “super-weapons”.
To be on the safe side, it’s probably best to assume Iran has 1 to 3 assembled high energy devices, all of which are untested. I’d strongly hesitate before assuming they could fit any of these to a missile warhead, where size and weight are critical restrictions.
All I can think of is Wile E. Coyote standing there, blackened and smoking, with a blown up stick of dynamite in his hand.
Good point, delivery is a key, because you can’t smuggle a nuke into Israel of USA without some level of miniturization. Just too big. Missle delivery, though, scares me re. Mahamood and Israel.
In anything goes war, they simply put one in a large oil tanker full of oil. No one is the wiser until it is too late. 50’ of oil probably makes a pretty good radiation shield.
Fly a chartered plane into Any City, Western World and never land - an air detonation at the optimum altitude without all the technical complications of a missile... And no customs to deal with...
I’m just a security/military ignorant guy sitting behind a computer. But it seems pretty obvious that it wouldn’t be that difficult to a nuke to virtually any city USA with a little knowledge and resources. All by far cheaper than a missile and much more difficult to track. If LA suddenly went up in a flash of light, it is pretty difficult to respond affectively if you don’t know who did it, especially considering how many lives are on the line.
Ping to Oldexpat’s post.
None which go through customs or any US inspections until they are here...
Here is too late.
A chartered plane is the worst. Over any city USA air detonation. No customs. No inspections. Much more accurate and reliable than a missile and dirt cheap in comparison.
Plane’s just can’t fly in from overseas with no transponder and no prearranged flight plan.
Didn’t you know, its Bushs fault, not Assad and Il’s
I never thought of shielding....we all puzzled over this shipment of "cement"..
Makes sense now.
The UN? It was an emergency to do nothing.
It’s not only a waste of money, it’s a waste of hope.
I said nothing about no transponders or missing flight plans.
Planes are chartered to haul freight and chartered to haul people daily. The come and go all over the world everyday.
However, if it was an assembly line (as it might have been) I do not think that it contained any weapons grade material (yet).
Another possibility is that this plant was meant as a message to the West from Iran that they know how to make bombs.
There is another possibility.
Iran subcontracted part of it’s NOKO sourced material to Syria and can maintain plausible deniability for some short term duration.
The long term effort could be curtailed as long as the heat is on with substantial progress still being made by the Syrian subcontractor.
Prior to this incident, there was no suspicion of a Syrian nuclear capability.
“A chartered plane is the worst. Over any city USA air detonation. “
I read a book 25 years ago or so that had CHina nuking NY using that method
Fascinating thread. Thanks to all contributors.
“Why wasnt an emergeancy meeting of the UN Security Council called?”
Good question. Some interesting reading here...
Thanks to Ian and the Threat Matrix thread for posting this here...
scroll to “Recommended Reading” UN1267
Because as you and I know, this action of exporting plutonium from the DPRK to other nations (particularly to the Islamo fascist Middle East) in fact crosses the Bush Administration's so called RED LINE against North Korea in 2002-2003, when appeasement of North Korea was not US policy.
If they were to go over this "Red Line", it could well mean War with the United States.
4 to 5 years later, now, here in 2007, NOTHING WILL BE DONE. We kept shifting the Red Line and Kim Jong il knows it.
Also, this kind of FR thread on North Korea, of utmost importance, would stretch into the 300s and 400s with posted replies, were this situation were to be found out during a CLINTON ADMINISTRATION and everyone hushed it up as much as they have done here in this case, all in favor of Chamberlainian Peace Talks and a Peace Treaty.
A lot of people are really asleep at the switch on this one.
But we can't say anything about it. Neither can Syria or NK. We all continue to sip our tea, nervously.
N. Korea won’t meet these new conditions. Though we’ll see if they’re given more stalling time to ‘think about it’.
Let’s hope not.
....The real cause for the protracted conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors is cultural differences, not territory. That same reason is the cause of terrorism aimed at the United States lately. I do not believe that military power alone can bridge that gap between East and West. A deeper change is required, like the one achieved in Japan after World War II. Is America ready to do that? I wonder.
It’s just left me scratching my head. Only thing I can think is along the lines of there not being any atheists in foxholes :)
ping-pong.. Fascinating Vince Flynnesk.
Jerusalem has a Hotel named Notre Dame?? WOW!!
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