Sunday, April 27, 2008

Fine. We'll Just Sit Here in the Dark, Then.

Syria's ambassador to the U.S. -- who sounds like a real fun guy, by the way -- says the CIA's full of crap. Well, not really. He was... diplomatic about it. Imad Moustapha said the photographs the CIA had that were allegedly taken inside a Syrian nuclear facility were fabricated. "The photos presented to me yesterday were ludicrous, laughable." Okey Dokey. What was the building for, then? Hello? Israel bombed it last year, the Syrians promptly bulldozed the ruins and built a larger building on top of it. They won't say what it's for.

Other annoying countries like N. Korea and Iran like to pretend that they need reactors to generate nuclear power, but it's argued that the reactors are really for generating weapons-grade plutonium. Here's the quick-and-dirty on how inspectors might figure that out. I'm not a scientist. Real, actual scientists are invited to correct me. Preferably over cocktails.

From what I just read, the difference is in how short a time a fuel rod is used in a reactor. The objective in power generation is to turn the turbines. Nuclear power plants use steam, and the heat to boil the water to make the steam is generated through nuclear reaction. The fuel rods are made of Uranium 238. During the course of the reaction the uranium isotope picks up an extra neutron and decays into Plutonium 239. You have the option of removing the fuel rods at any point in the reaction process. If you were generating heat for steam you would allow the rods to remain in place until all reactivity tapered off. You would no longer have much uranium 238 and you would have the higher isotopes of plutonium (240,241, and so on). P239 is the one you want for weapons, and if you remove the fuel rods earlier in the process that's what you'll have. So I guess if you have more uranium being expended in a given period of time at a given reactor than 'should be' you have a reason to ask what they're using it for.

Meanwhile, back in Syria, Mr. Moustapha isn't saying what the reactor is for. I guess it doesn't have wires hooked up to it. Bit of an oversight, that. He says there's no military checkpoints, air defenses or even a fence, so it can't be a sensitive facility. It's in the middle of the desert where it's flat and there's a whole lot of nothing. Good luck sneaking up on it, and who needs a fence? Anti-aircraft defenses would be like asking to get bombed again. So what's it for, Moose?