WASHINGTON – New commercial satellite images show a suspected Syrian nuclear reactor site has been wiped clean since it was bombed Sept. 6 by Israeli aircraft.
Analysts say the cleanup will hinder a proposed investigation by international nuclear inspectors and suggests Syria is trying to conceal evidence.
“It took down this facility so quickly it looks like they are trying to hide something,” said David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, which analyzed the images.
An image taken Wednesday by a DigitalGlobe commercial satellite shows tractors or bulldozers and scrape marks on the ground where the building stood in photos taken prior to the September Israeli attack.
It also shows what appears to be a trench where Syria might have dug up buried pipelines running from a water pumping station to the suspected reactor building.
Albright said Syria may have acted so swiftly because the Israeli attack blew a hole in the roof, which would have exposed the building’s contents to spy aircraft and satellites.
Had the building not been razed, inspectors would have been able to tell from its construction whether it was meant to house a North Korean-style nuclear reactor, Albright said. He said the fact that the structure got a roof so early in its construction also suggests that it was a reactor.
“That’s another bit of support that it was a reactor being built with North Korean help,” he said. “From what we understand, North Korea builds reactors in an old-fashioned way; the roof goes on early.” More modern reactors leave the roof until last to allow large cranes to lift heavy equipment into place, he said.
The building was under construction for at least a year, based on analysis of earlier commercial images put together by SPOT Image, another commercial imagery company, Albright said.
DigitalGlobe’s satellites captured four images of the site on four recent days – Aug. 10, 15, 28 and Oct. 24. Company spokesman Chuck Herring would not say whether DigitalGlobe captured those images speculatively or at the request of a customer.
Syria, which is a member of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, denies it was building a nuclear reactor. It has a single small nuclear research reactor that operates under international safeguards. The alleged new reactor would have operated outside those controls.