Concern is heightening over the possible existence of up to 50 tons of enriched uranium in Syria, the Financial Times reported Tuesday, a stockpile large enough for the production of five atomic bombs.
To date, governments have largely focused on the fate of Syria’s chemical weapons, and preventing their seizure by Islamic militants spearheading the ongoing uprising against President Bashar Assad's rule.
As the country descends deeper into a sectarian civil war, however, fears have grown over the possible existence, and security, of a stockpile of processed uranium inside Syria.
The worry stems from the Assad regime's attempt to build a nuclear reactor in the eastern city of at Al-Kibar in the mid-2000s. With assistance from North Korea, Damascus is believed to have nearly completed the facility prior to its destruction in an alleged Israeli airstrike in 2007.
Few details are known about the nature of the reactor, although experts believe the plant would have required approximately 50 tons of natural uranium fuel to become operational.
An IAEA inspection team that visited the Al-Kibar site in May 2008 found only traces of uranium, fueling speculation that a large stockpile of uranium had been moved.
David Albright, the head of the US-based Institute for Science and International Security think-tank, and a leading expert on the Iran's nuclear program, was quoted by the Financial Times as saying that “There are real worries about what has happened to the uranium that Syria was planning to put into the Al-Kibar reactor shortly before the reactor was destroyed.
“There’s no question that, as Syria gets engulfed in civil war, the whereabouts of this uranium is worrying governments.”
Adding to the severity of the issue is the possibility that Iran, closely allied to the Syrian regime, might be trying to acquire the uranium.
According to one anonymous official quoted by the Financial Times, “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.”
Satellite imagery taken in late 2012 of an alleged secret uranium conversion facility in Marj al-Sultan near Damascus showing signs of clean up as well as entrenched military personnel has raised speculation the uranium may at the site.