Syria is suspected of harboring a uranium conversion reactor near the town of Marj as Sultan, near Damascus, according to a publication released Wednesday by the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security based on reports by the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung.It doesn't appear to be a large scale operation, but it could be a signal that Syria was attempting to carry out a distributed enrichment program that was more difficult to attack in one fell swoop. ISIS reports that there were three related facilities, and this one near Damascus is included in that number.
The facility is related to the nuclear reactor project at al Kibar that was bombed by Israel in September 2007, and it was reportedly used for processing uranium, according to the report.
The report said the facility's operational status is still unknown, but Syria is suspected of clearing out the buildings before mid-2008 in efforts to disguise previous activities conducted at the site.
Syria has continued to refuse requests by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to inspect the Marj as Sultan facility, as well as other sites that may be related to the nuclear reactor project, the report said.
Satellite images of the site near Marj as Sultan, obtained by the ISIS, reveal that on July 25, 2008, there was considerable activity involving the pouring of material on the ground as well as trucks and other vehicles that could have been related to the operation.
Israel carried out airstrikes against a purported nuclear facility in Syria in 2007, and the Syrians didn't muster much of a response diplomatically, which suggested that the Syrians didn't want to bring any more attention to their nuclear ambitions and capabilities.
The problem for inspectors is that to an untrained eye, the buildings and structures would appear to be nondescript commercial buildings and endeavors. That's the problem for inspectors - Syria is trying to hide their program in plain sight, and using these kinds of structures to deflect attention and prying eyes in the sky.