The Syrian installation depicted by US media on Oct. 24 as the one destroyed by Israel on Sept. 6 was a partially completed Producing Reactor. This facility is too primitive to make a nuclear bomb, but it can produce fissile or highly radio-active materials, usually plutonium, in their most unstable, dangerous form.
Combined with explosives, these materials become a “dirty bomb” or RDD. Even on its own, plutonium is an especially lethal tool of mass death. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s nuclear experts affirm that there is no technical remedy able to provide complete safety from radiological attack in existence today.
Our experts further note: The Syrian Producing Reactor (illustrated here) lacks the dome, which usually houses an advanced reactor’s core and coolant (or moderator). It is also short of the apparatus required to take the nuclear process to the far more advanced level of separation and uranium enrichment. It is primitive, easily operated and cheap (tens of millions of dollars), compared with the far more elaborate, costly and high tech full-scale program for making a military weapon.
The installation’s function would have been limited to the production of the highly radioactive, highly unstable PU239 (plutonium), or nuclear waste.
(DEBKA-Net-Weekly 320 of Oct. 6 first reported that the Syrian installation was designed to produce a form of “dirty bomb”)
This product is in no way similar to a nuclear bomb – or even a bomb at all. It is made by bombarding natural uranium – U238 – with neutrons which split each atom, releasing more neutrons which continue the process (chain reaction) and must be slowed by a “moderator” (possibly water or heavy water) to prevent an explosion.
The ultimate contaminant
Combined with dynamite, it can be used as “the poor man’s” nuclear bomb, a lethally radioactive device, which is suitable for the use of a suicide bomber, who will be irradiated by its use together with his victims.
Unlike uranium, plutonium does not in exist in nature; it is entirely manmade and the deadliest of contaminators. It is not susceptible to any known preventive or protective measures.
PU239 can be carried as a powder or solid substance in a suitcase or packed in a missile warhead and simply scattered. In this form, even without being combined with explosives, plutonium contaminates everything it touches; an easily portable amount poisons an area of several square kilometers, causing death, acute radiation poisoning, lingering illness and genetic changes. It poisons water and soil. Deposited in Israel’s scarce water sources which rise in Syria, it would poison a whole nation.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s nuclear experts, unlike natural substances, whose radioactivity weakness in days, PU239 retains its radioactive life for thousands of years. Cleanup may not be technically feasible. Any city subjected to a plutonium attack would become a permanently uninhabitable wasteland.
In this sense, even before Iran reaches its goal of a nuclear bomb, its president’s wish “to wipe Israel off the map” could have been fulfilled by Syria’s plutonium reactor and its product – whether delivered by Syria, Hizballah, Hamas or the Islamic Republic itself.
Israel therefore went into action to destroy the Syrian Producer Reactor before it went into production.
US government agencies tend to play down the menace of radiological attack as a “weapon of mass disruption” rather than a “weapon of mass destruction,” to prevent panic, because no one is equipped today to deal with a radiological scenario of this kind.
The next article sheds new light on the form taken by Israel’s raid of Syria’s nuclear reactor.