No Hidden Agenda

By George, Alan | The Middle East, December 1993 | Go to article overview

No Hidden Agenda


George, Alan, The Middle East


SYRIA IS PREP ARING to take delivery of its first reactor, a 27kW research facility from China. Construction of a reactor building and related facilities is underway at a site 30kms south east of Damascus, and the reactor should be installed within a year. In an interview with The Middle East, Dr Assad Loutfi, deputy director-general of Syria's Atomic Energy Commission, said that the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was closely involved in the project, and had pledged over a million dollars in funding.

Some parts of the reactor have already arrived, says Dr Loutfi, a physicist who gained his doctorate from the University of Wisconsin, although "the core - the most important part - is not yet here." The tank-type reactor will be similar to the Canadian Slowpoke design, although with uranium fuel enriched to about 90% and with a mass of 985gms. China will train operating staff, and two others in neutron activation analysis techniques.

"The reactor will be used only for scientific research," Dr Loutfi promises. "We will use it to make very short-lived isotopes for use in medicine, agriculture and geology. These will replace imported isotopes."

Isotope production can only be very limited, he explains, since the reactor will have only two irradiation sites, each with a volume of 25 cubic centimetres. One will be at flux 10 neutrons per square centimetre, the other half that amount.

Syria is not the only country in line for this type of reactor. Pakistan and Iran have firm supply agreements with China, although neither has yet taken delivery, and Ghana is negotiating an agreement.

Originally, said Dr Loutfi, there had been a plan for Syria to acquire a 2 MW research reactor from the Soviet Union. "Then things changed. The Soviet Union collapsed and about three years ago we turned to China."

Syria's Atomic Energy Commission was officially created in 1976, but started practical operations in 1980. It has a range of laboratories, all in Damascus, and also on occasion uses university facilities. In all, the Commission has about 650 personnel, according to Dr Loutfi, of whom 40 have doctorates and 100-150 have bachelor of science degrees.

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