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Facilities Last updated: April, 2014

Biological

  • There is very little detailed information available about the organizations and facilities associated with the Syrian BW program. It is believed that all research, development, and production activities and facilities associated with the BW program are under the direct control of the Centre D'Etude et Recherché Scientifique (CERS). This agency is run by a director-general with the rank of minister, who is directly responsible to the president.[1] The Centre D'Etude et Recherché Scientifique provides most research and development functions for the Syrian military. Since the 1970s, CERS has also been responsible for the development of civilian science and technology in Syria, and it was in this context that the institute was able to develop cooperative relationships with Western chemical companies.

    The primary biological weapons agent facility is reported to be located at the Damascus-based Scientific Research Council, where anthrax, cholera, and botulism are developed by the Biological Research Facility are produced.[2] It should be noted that research on infectious diseases is part of the mandate of this agency and that anthrax is endemic to Syria and the region, where it affects the health of pastoralists and agricultural workers. In regards to this situation, Syria has a program for the vaccination of livestock against anthrax.

    There are also speculative suggestions that the Damascus production line for chemical bomblets established in 1997 may be capable of producing bomblets suitable for the dissemination of biological weapons.

    In 1992, an additional facility in the Syria coastal town of Cerin was identified as being responsible for biological weapons production.[3] These reports conflict with the general thrust of open source information, which generally suggests the existence of a Syrian BW research program.

    Since the late 1980s, Syria has undertaken a sustained effort to increase its national capabilities in the fields of pharmaceuticals and bio-technology. This effort has involved the establishment of a number of joint-venture companies and the construction of approximately 12 pharmaceutical factories. These facilities produce for local and export markets. Although no specific allegations have been leveled at any of these facilities, it is possible that their construction and operation has resulted in the transfer of skills and technologies to Syria that might be of relevance to a biological weapons program. However, if these transfers of dual-use capabilities have resulted in the construction of any dedicated facilities for biological weapons applications, this information has not appeared in open sources.

    Sources:
    [1] Dany Shoham, "Gas, Guile and Germs: Syria's ultimate weapons," Middle East Quarterly (Summer 2002), www.meforum.org.
    [2] Richard M. Bennett, "The Syrian Military: A Primer," Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, August/September 2001, www.meib.org.
    [3] "Investigation: Syrian CW programs," Middle East Defense News (Paris), 28 September 1992, pp. 5-6.

    Facilities Descriptions

Missiles

Nuclear

  • Since the mid-1970s, the majority of Syria's nuclear facilities have been constructed under the auspices of IAEA technical cooperation projects, relying heavily on additional foreign assistance. Syria's few officially acknowledged nuclear facilities, the most notable being the Chinese-built miniature neutron source reactor (MNSR), or SRR-1, and the Ion Beam cyclotron facility, are research-related and located primarily at the Atomic Energy Commission of Syria (AECS) headquarters in Damascus and the Der Al-Hadjar Research Center, southeast of Damascus. In addition to these facilities, however, there is ongoing controversy concerning irregularities in Syria's safeguards compliance. Specifically, it is widely accepted that the Al-Kibar (or Dair Alzour) facility, destroyed by Israel in 2007 while still under construction, was a plutonium production reactor. The IAEA has resolved its questions about previously undeclared activities at the SRR-1 research reactor. However, the Syrian government has continued to resist providing additional information to the IAEA on its past activities at Al-Kibar and other possibly related facilities.

    Relevant Individuals and Institutions

    Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, (and prior to 2000, his father, President Hafez al-Assad), is the highest governing authority and is therefore ultimately responsible for all key decisions regarding Syria's nuclear program. The Prime Minister's office helps to guide and regulate Syria's top nuclear agency, the Atomic Energy Commission of Syria (AECS). [1] The AECS, currently led by Director General Ibrahim Othman, is composed of Syria's top nuclear experts and manages Syrian nuclear research. It is "responsible for the peaceful utilization of atomic and nuclear technologies." [2] An administrative council manages the AECS's departments, including those involved in nuclear energy, safety, and regulation. The AECS also serves as the Syrian government's representative for IAEA technical, regional, and interregional cooperative projects. [3]

    Two additional ministries play a significant role in shaping Syria's nuclear policies and work extensively with the AECS. The first is the Ministry of Electricity, which has consistently been involved in IAEA-Syria technical cooperation projects, including the 1979 feasibility study for Syrian nuclear power options. [4] Ahmad Qusay Kayali is the current minister of electricity. Additionally, the Ministry of Higher Education is responsible for all Syrian universities, higher institutes and professional and technical training institutions, including Damascus University. [5] The current minister is Dr. Ghitath Barakat.

    The most controversial entity often linked to Syria's nuclear program is the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC), also known as the Centre d'Etudes et de Recherches Scientifiques (CERS). The SSRC's stated goals are to conduct research and development for the economic and social advancement of Syria. [6] Outside analysts suspect it serves as a front for Syrian military research, however, most likely including chemical weapons and missile research, and possibly including biological and/or nuclear weapons research. [7] However, there is insufficient evidence available in the open source literature to confirm this speculation about the SSRC.

    Funding for the Nuclear Program

    Information on the total cost of Syria's nuclear program is unavailable in the open source literature. However, Syria received approximately $14.5 million in IAEA Technical Cooperation Assistance from 1997-2007. [8]

    Past, Present and Planned Nuclear Facilities

    In 1976, President Hafez al-Assad established the AECS, which undertook limited technical projects with the IAEA in the 1970s, most notably including nuclear energy feasibility studies. [9] Only in the early 1980's did the AECS's work begin to progress. In 1982, Syria constructed a nuclear analytical laboratory with the assistance of the IAEA. This was soon followed by discussions with the IAEA regarding Syria's ambition to construct six 600MWe power reactors by the 1990s, but the project never progressed into reactor construction. [10]

    During the mid-1980s, Syria began researching processes to recover uranium from phosphate rock in the hopes of ensuring itself an indigenous uranium supply. Syria possesses abundant sources of phosphate rock and conducts mining at several locations, including Charkia and Knifes. [11] The IAEA also provided the AECS with a uranium recovery micro-pilot plant at Homs, located northeast of Damascus, which was completed in 1992 and remains operational today. According to the IAEA, a "pilot plant, an industrial scale plant and then possibly operations such as refining, conversion, enrichment and fuel fabrication," would potentially follow the micro-pilot plant, which was the logical first step in Syria's civil nuclear program. [12] Syria also signed a contract with the IAEA and an unnamed supplier in 1996 to improve its technical process for recovering uranium from triple super phosphate and completed the phosphoric acid pilot plant at Homs in late 2001. [13] Although the emphasis of this latter project was to remove uranium and other hazardous materials in order to purify the phosphoric acid for fertilizer, the byproduct of this process was "hundreds of kilograms" of uranium yellowcake.[14] However, Syria is not currently capable of conversion, enrichment or fuel fabrication, and it would not be financially feasible for Damascus to industrialize its limited uranium extraction efforts. [15]

    In 1991, under IAEA technical project SYR/4/004, China began constructing the Der Al-Hadjar Nuclear Research Center near Damascus, the centerpiece of which is the SRR-1 miniature neutron source reactor (MNSR). [16] The SRR-1 is Syria's sole (declared) research reactor, went critical in 1996, and is under IAEA safeguards. [17]

    In 1997, the Belgian company Ion Beam Applications built Syria's cyclotron facility. The facility is intended to produce short-lived radiopharmaceuticals, and to help modernize Syria's national health care system. It is located at the AECS Dubaya Center in Damascus, also home to Syria's Nuclear Medicine Center. [18]

    The IAEA also approved a technical project in 1999 to assist Syria in establishing radioactive waste management technology and infrastructure at Der Al-Hadjar. [19] Syria's Department of Radiation and Nuclear Safety and the Radiation Protection Division also contributed to this project, which concluded in 2007. Syria's AECS has since taken the lead role in waste management and "all relevant technological and control operations that are required in the framework of Syria's nuclear programme." [20]

    On 6 September 2007, Israel destroyed a facility near Dair Alzour. Commonly known as the Al-Kibar facility, it is alleged by U.S. and Israeli intelligence to have been a partially completed 25MWth gas-cooled graphite-moderated nuclear reactor, which would have been capable of producing enough plutonium for one or two weapons per year. [21] The IAEA visited the site on 23 June 2008, and an analysis of environmental swipe samples taken there revealed traces of anthropogenic, or man-made, uranium. [22] Over the next two years, Syria continued to insist that the site was a non-nuclear military facility and refused to provide additional access or documentation requested by the IAEA. [23] In its May 2011 report the IAEA concluded that, "the features of the destroyed building and the site could not have served the purpose claimed by Syria" and therefore "the destroyed building was very likely a nuclear reactor." [24]

    Despite referring Syria to the United Nations Security Council, the IAEA has not made further progress in obtaining information about the Al-Kibar site or the three other sites alleged to be functionally related to it, which are reportedly located at Masyaf, Marj as-Sultan, and Iskandariyah. [25] News reports also asserted that the IAEA was interested in a facility near Al-Hasakah based on the similarity of the site's layout to designs for a centrifuge enrichment plant provided by the A.Q. Khan network to Libya. [26] However, satellite imagery analysis and an interview with a German CEO involved in building the plant determined it to be the Hasaka Spinning Factory, which has produced cotton since being constructed in the early 1980s.[27]

    Concurrent with the controversy over Al-Kibar, the IAEA found traces of anthropogenic uranium that did not match Syria's declarations during a visit to the safeguarded SRR-1 research reactor. [28] However, after receiving additional information and visiting the SRR-1 and related locations that could have been the source of the material, including the phosphoric acid pilot plant at Homs, the IAEA determined that the results of its analysis were "not inconsistent" with Syria's explanation and returned to the "routine implementation of safeguards." [29]

    Despite the Al-Kibar controversy, the IAEA has continued to engage Syria on technical cooperation, regional, and interregional projects, and according to the IAEA Technical Cooperation website a dozen technical projects remain ongoing. [30] This includes a feasibility study and site selection approved in early 2009 "to perform technical specification and economic evaluation" for what would be Syria's first nuclear power plant. [31] However, even if proven feasible, the project would be unlikely to move forward into construction for many years. Furthermore, as of August 2012 the escalating civil violence in Syria makes any near-term progress on Syria's civil nuclear program unimaginable. Even if the violence subsides, any Syrian government will be preoccupied with more immediate economic and political priorities than nuclear power, and it will take considerable time for potential foreign investors and suppliers to regain prerequisite confidence in the country's stability.

    Sources:
    [1] Magnus Normark et al., "Syria and WMD Incentives and Capabilities," FOI Swedish Defence Research Agency, June 2004, p. 56.
    [2] For more information see, the Atomic Energy Commission of Syria's website, www.aec.org.sy.
    [3] See Ibrahim Othman's presentation at the IAEA Workshop on "Steps for Conducting Nuclear Power Plant Technology Assessments," in Vienna, Austria, 17-20 November 2008, www.iaea.org.
    [4] Nuclear Programmes in the Middle East: In the Shadow of Iran, ed. Mark Fitzpatrick, (London, UK: International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2008), pp. 73-82.
    [5] Magnus Normark et al., "Syria and WMD Incentives and Capabilities," FOI Swedish Defence Research Agency, June 2004, p. 51.
    [6] Magnus Normark et al., "Syria and WMD Incentives and Capabilities," FOI Swedish Defence Research Agency, June 2004, p. 28.
    [7] Ellen Laipson, "Syria: Can the Myth Be Maintained Without Nukes?", in Kurt M. Campbell, Robert J. Einhorn, and Mitchell B. Reiss, The Nuclear Tipping Point: Why States Reconsider Their Nuclear Choices, (Washington, DC: 2004), pp. 83-110; Dany Shoham, "Guile, Gas and Germs: Syria's Ultimate Weapons," The Middle East Quarterly, Vol. 9, No. 3, Summer 2002, www.meforum.org; U.S. Department of the Treasury, "Three Entities Targeted by Treasury for Supporting Syria's WMD Proliferation," 4 January 2007, www.treas.gov.
    [8] "Nuclear Nonproliferation: Strengthened Oversight Needed to Address Proliferation and Management Challenges in IAEA's Technical Cooperation Program," United States Government Accountability Office, Report to the Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, 2 March 2009, www.gao.gov.
    [9] Nuclear Programmes in the Middle East: In the Shadow of Iran, ed. Mark Fitzpatrick, (London, UK: International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2008), pp. 73-82; and "SYR/0/003: Nuclear Energy Planning," IAEA Technical Cooperation Projects, 1979, www-tc.iaea.org.
    [10] "SYR/1/002: Nuclear Analytical Laboratory," IAEA Technical Cooperation Projects, 1982, www-tc.iaea.org; Wyn Q. Bowen and Joanna Kidd, "The Nuclear Capabilities and Ambitions of Iran's Neighbors," in Henry Sokolski and Patrick Clawson, Getting Ready for a Nuclear Iran, (Carlisle, PA: 2005), pp. 51-88.
    [11] "SYR/3/003: Uranium Recovery from Phosphoric Acid," IAEA Technical Cooperation Projects, 1986, www-tc.iaea.org.
    [12] "SYR/3/003: Uranium Recovery from Phosphoric Acid," IAEA Technical Cooperation Projects, 1986, www-tc.iaea.org.
    [13] "SYR/3/005: Purification of Phosphoric Acid," IAEA Technical Cooperation Projects, 1996, www-tc.iaea.org; Wyn Q. Bowen and Joanna Kidd, "The Nuclear Capabilities and Ambitions of Iran's Neighbors," in Henry Sokolski and Patrick Clawson, Getting Ready for a Nuclear Iran, (Carlisle, PA: 2005), pp. 51-88.
    [14] Magnus Normark et al., "Syria and WMD: Incentives and Capabilities," FOI Swedish Defence Research Agency, June 2004, p.31, www2.foi.se; IAEA, "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Syrian Arab Republic," Report by the Director General, IAEA, GOV/2011/30, 24 May 2011.
    [15] "SYR/3/003: Uranium Recovery from Phosphoric Acid," IAEA Technical Cooperation Projects, 1986, www-tc.iaea.org; Wyn Q. Bowen and Joanna Kidd, "The Nuclear Capabilities and Ambitions of Iran's Neighbors," in Henry Sokolski and Patrick Clawson, Getting Ready for a Nuclear Iran, (Carlisle, PA: 2005), pp. 51-88.
    [16] "SYR/4/004: Miniature Neutron Source Reactor," IAEA Technical Cooperation Projects, 1991, www-tc.iaea.org.
    [17] International Atomic Energy Agency, "Syrian Arab Republic: Research Reactor Details-SRR-1," www.iaea.org; Nuclear Programmes in the Middle East: In the Shadow of Iran, ed. Mark Fitzpatrick, (London, UK: International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2008), pp. 73-82.
    [18] "SYR/4/007: Cyclotron Facility for Medical Radioisotopes," IAEA Technical Cooperation Projects, 1997, www-tc.iaea.org; Magnus Normark et al., "Syria and WMD Incentives and Capabilities," FOI Swedish Defence Research Agency, June 2004, p. 55.
    [19] "SYR/4/008: Radioactive Waste Management Facility," IAEA Technical Cooperation Projects, 1999, www-tc.iaea.org.
    [20] "SYR/4/008: Radioactive Waste Management Facility," IAEA Technical Cooperation Projects, 1999, www-tc.iaea.org.
    [21] Office of the Director of National Intelligence, "Background Briefing with Senior U.S. officials on Syria's Covert Nuclear Reactor and North Korea's Involvement," 24 April 2008, available at Council on Foreign Relations, www.cfr.org; David Albright and Paul Brannan, "ISIS Report: The Al Kibar Reactor: Extraordinary Camouflage, Troubling Implications," Institute for Science and International Security, 12 May 2008, www.isis-online.org; "North Korea and Syria: Oh what a tangled web they weave," The Economist, 1 May 2008.
    [22] IAEA, "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Syrian Arab Republic," Report by the Director General to the Board of Governors, GOV/2008/60, 19 November 2008.
    [23] IAEA, "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Syrian Arab Republic," Report by the Director General to the Board of Governors, GOV/2011/8, 25 February 2011.
    [24] IAEA, "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Syrian Arab Republic," Report by the Director General to the Board of Governors, GOV/2011/30, 24 May 2011.
    [25] David Albright and Paul Brannan, "Satellite Image Shows Syrian Site Functionally Related to Al Kibar Reactor," ISIS, 1 December 2010, http://isis-online.org.
    [26] Jeffrey Lewis, "Hasaka Spinning Factory," Arms Control Wonk, 24 October 2011, www.armscontrolwonk.com; Jeffrey Lewis, "AP on Hasaka," Arms Control Wonk, 1 November 2011, www.armscontrolwonk.com; Desmond Butler and George Jahn, "AP Exclusive: UN Examines Syria-Pakistan Nuke Tie," Associated Press, 1 November 2011, www.boston.com
    [27] Jeffrey Lewis, "Closing the File on Hasaka," Arms Control Wonk, 4 November 2011, www.armscontrolwonk.com; "Hassakeh Spinning Co.," 2006, www.hasakaspin.com.
    [28] IAEA, "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Syrian Arab Republic," Report by the Director General to the Board of Governors, GOV/2010/47, 6 September 2010.
    [29] IAEA, "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Syrian Arab Republic," Report by the Director General, IAEA, GOV/2011/30, 24 May 2011.
    [30] "Country: Syrian Arab Republic," IAEA-TC Projects by Country, accessed 14 August 2012, www-tc.iaea.org.
    [31] "SYR/020: Conducting a Technical and Economic Feasibility Study and Site Selection for a Nuclear Power Plant," IAEA Technical Cooperation Projects, 2009, www-tc.iaea.org.

    Facilities Descriptions

    Nuclear-Education and Training
    Nuclear-Fuel Storage or Fabrication
    Nuclear-Milling
    Nuclear-Reactors
    Nuclear-Waste Management and Reprocessing
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This material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of and has not been independently verified by NTI or its directors, officers, employees, or agents.

Get the Facts on Syria

  • Found in noncompliance with its international safeguards obligations by the IAEA in June 2011
  • Refuses to renounce its chemical weapons program until Israel abandons its nuclear weapons
  • Received assistance from Russia, China, the DPRK and Iran for its ballistic missile program