ABC’s Martha Raddatz has some detail about the Syrian nuclear facility that suggests to me that she and her sources are confused about nuclear reactors:
But the hardest evidence of all was the photographs.
The official described the pictures as showing a big cylindrical structure, with very thick walls all well-reinforced. The photos show rebar hanging out of the cement used to reinforce the structure, which was still under construction.
There was also a secondary structure and a pump station, with trucks around it. But there was no fissionable material found because the facility was not yet operating.
The official said there was a larger structure just north of a small pump station; a nuclear reactor would need a constant source of water to keep it cool.
The official said the facility was a North Korean design in its construction, the technology present and the ability to put it all together.
It was North Korean “expertise,” said the official, meaning the Syrians must have had “human” help from North Korea.
A light water reactor designed by North Koreans could be constructed to specifically produce plutonium for nuclear weapons.
The problem here is that North Korea’s reactors are gas-cooled. You see, if there is a pump , the reactor can not be, as David Sanger and Mark Mazzetti reported, “modeled on one North Korea has used to create its stockpile of nuclear weapons.” (A careful reader in the comments points out that the pump could be for a secondary cooling tower like the one at Yongbyon, a possibility that I neglected.)
So, one of the two stories is dead wrong. It either is either water-cooled or it resembles the reactor at Yongbyon, which is gas-cooled.
Now, in addition to light-water reactors, a heavy water reactor, like Iran is building at Arak, would have pumps. No one, however, seems to be suggesting an Iran-Syria link. I am not sure why — perhaps the pump drew H20 from the river.
So, basically, according to Raddatz — who generally seems like a pretty solid reporter — we’ve got a big cement ring in the ground and nearby pump station. (I am not even going to touch the claim that Mossad “managed to either co-opt one of the facility’s workers or to insert a spy posing as an employee.”)
The hard evidence seems a little, well, soft to me. AP’s George Jahn, by the way, reports that the IAEA is now looking at commerical imagery
but hasn’t seen anything that screams nuclear reactor:
Two other diplomats said initial examination of the material found no evidence the target was a nuclear installation, but emphasized it was too early to draw definitive conclusions.
(Thanks to Pavel Podvig and SQ for pointing out the Raddatz story and the water pump detail.)