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Syrian Uranium Could be at Risk: Experts

Syrian rebels take up position near a military airport at Taftanaz. The ongoing civil war against the Assad government raises concerns about the security of up to 50 metric tons of nonenriched uranium believed to be held in Syria, according to government officials and issue specialists (AP Photo/Mustafa Karali). Syrian rebels take up position near a military airport at Taftanaz. The ongoing civil war against the Assad government raises concerns about the security of up to 50 metric tons of nonenriched uranium believed to be held in Syria, according to government officials and issue specialists (AP Photo/Mustafa Karali).

There are concerns about the security of as much as 50 metric tons of nonenriched uranium in civil war-wracked Syria, the Financial Times reported on Tuesday.

Issue specialists believe that Damascus would have required roughly that amount of material to operate a suspected unfinished nuclear reactor plant destroyed in a 2007 Israeli airstrike. The Assad government has said the Dair Alzour facility was a military installation not involved in atomic operations.

International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors in 2008 discovered traces of anthropogenic natural uranium at Dair Alzour. They have not been allowed to return to the razed site.

“There are real worries about what has happened to the uranium that Syria was planning to put into the [Dair Alzour] reactor shortly before the reactor was destroyed in 2007,” said David Albright, head of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security. “There’s no question that, as Syria gets engulfed in civil war, the whereabouts of this uranium is worrying governments. There is evidence to suggest this issue has been raised by one government directly with the IAEA.”

Uranium-hungry Iran, suspected by the United States and other nations of seeking a nuclear-weapon capability, could be trying to acquire the material, according to certain government sources. They noted activity in recent months, including the razing of an orchard, at the Marj al-Sultan location close to Damascus that is suspected of housing a uranium conversion plant.

“Syria is almost certainly in possession of good quality uranium of the type that Iran has been trying to acquire on the international market for years. It would certainly be possible to transfer this from Syria to Iran by air," officials said, while acknowledging it was not sure the uranium was actually at Marj al-Sultan.

“You could draw the conclusion that there may be something at this site that the Syrian authorities are keen to defend from opposition forces,” according to Albright. “It would be interesting to know what it is.”

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