Jeffrey LewisMore Boxology

A friend observes that the Box-on-the-Euphrates may have been modeled to appear, at first glance, like a ruined Byzantine fortress.

The other three images are of a Byzantine fortress in Zippori (Sepphoris) National Park, Israel.

Same friend sends along some SketchUp models and Google Earth overlays, including:

Overlays show the BOW after destruction, including the exposure, the crane, the backfill. and the foundation of the new building

Have fun.

Update: New files of the BOE with the supporting structure for the curtain wall. the “pumphouse: and the obscurring berm


  1. Mark Gubrud

    I still think the real story goes like this. See if it doesn’t turn out to have been so.

    US and Israel knew about the box and suspected it was a reactor almost from the beginning, and warned the Syrians in very seriously ominous tones to stop, which took on new meaning after the invasion of Iraq. So Iran shut down its bomb work and Syria mothballed or back-burnered its reactor project, but site construction on the reactor continued, slowly. Four years later, the North Koreans privately give us the photos and basic info on the Syrian reactor, as part of the NK deal, but some in the admin wanted the Norks to go further and publicly admit their role. Plus they and Israelis wanted to threaten Iran. With the Nork info, they knew the reactor remained far from completion and there was no radioactive material present. So the bombing was greenlighted. The recent press release was to put more pressure on the Norks to fully and publicly come clean, or else deep-six the NK deal.

    I also told you it was Qaddafi who sold out AQ “al Qaeda” Khan, and made Bush look good and the PSI look brilliant in exchange for his rehabilitation.

    I’ll tell you something else. False-front and sting operations, and purchased betrayals are the core tactics and strategy used in the struggle to control proliferation and prevent nuclear terrorism. If you can flood the market with false sellers and buyers, you can have a relatively high probability of catching the real ones. And when you do catch one, you coerce or bribe him to help you catch others. Otherwise, it would be hopeless, and I suspect Washington would be bye-bye by now.

    That’s what the Sibel Edmonds thing is all about. The “secrets for sale” conspiracy she thinks she uncovered was actually working for the Man.

    How do I know all this? It just makes sense. Mark my words.

    Sorry for crossposting, but I want to give everyone the maximum opportunity to call me an idiot.

  2. Dave (History)

    Hmmm… Never zoomed out far enough to notice the dozered berm that they pushed up around the south and east side. That thing must be a couple meters high and 3-4 meters wide based on the width of the dozer blade
    blade marks.

    Must be for stormwater diversion, eh?

  3. From Afar (History)

    FYI: For anyone viewing the SketchUp models in Google Earth, please be aware that the models had to incorporate a false sandy slope on the north and west sides to prevent the model from “floating”. This was necessitated by the fact that the underlying digital elevation model (DEM) incorporated in Google Earth in this area is itself sloping because the DEM is either not detailed enough or was created using satellite imagery dating back before the BOE foundation and immediate surrounding area was excavated and graded flat. As a result, the model is forced to rest on a sloping surface as opposed to what in reality is a flat surface, and therefore the sandy slope or “berm” was added for presentation sake. That said, the models should be viewed as best approximations of reality for 3-D visualization purposes only.

  4. From Afar (History)

    Let’s put aside the conspiracy theories (fun though they may be), and just review the facts of the case as we have them now:
    1) There was a very, very, well thought out plan of “signature suppression”. The decision seems to have been made at the highest levels of the Syrian and DPRK gov’ts to avoid all appearances associated with a reactor to the maximum degree possible.
    2) They avoided the installation of a visible ventilation stack (and may have intended to use the little dormer feature on the eastern portion of the roof or some other less apparent feature).
    3) They avoided the need for a cooling tower with multiple water connections (I still think that there was one to the water treatment plant,but which way water flowed or whether it was just for electric power really doesn’t matter. In any case, it is clear that there was some kind of buried link between the two sites including a pipe/conduit spanning into the southeast corner of the original BOE that is still visible on Google Earth). I also believe that they could have just used screens and filters to keep out frogs and grass from any lines coming from the closest “pump house”.
    4) The Syrians avoided the need for outer perimeter fences by placing the reactor in a remote and seldom visited place that was “terrain masked” in the arroyo/erosion canyon so that they only had to position a few guards at strategic points along the encircling raised earthen perimeter berm with binoculars to monitor for potential intruders, etc. (And don’t forget that they also built up the obscuration berm above a spur on the river side, as was pointed out by the ODNI)
    5) Utilities and other service umbilicals were buried to limit the likelihood of detection and connection to the site.
    6) The construction image (taken from the ground) clearly shows that the initial appearance was very similar to the Yongbyon, but then they completely covered that building with a false facade, filled in the functional windows, and painted the grey concrete with a brownish stain, possibly to give it the appearance of an aged Byzantine ruin. (There are two such Byzantine/Crusader-age fort ruins in the immediate vicinity on the Euphrates River, at Halabiya and Zennobia).
    (7) The ground photos show a reactor similar to the one at Yongbyon, but somewhat smaller in overall size. (And yes, the core was located below ground to make the building shorter, and we have the visible evidence that the reactor was there on multiple overhead satellite images provided by the ODNI during the unprecedented quick demolition and cover-up that was also corroborated by commercial satellite imagery (which also prove that the outdoor ground images are authentic.) Please see Yale’s 29 April 2008 post showing that imagery with a clear shot of the south side wall.
    8) Given that the only below grade components visible on the satellite imagery during the demolition and burial are entirely consistent with a clandestine reactor and not at all with a “military warehouse”, “missile facility”, or innocuous “military support facility”,we have to consider that the most likely explanation is the one given by the CIA, and NOT by the Syrians (There should be now be NO doubt that it was a reactor built in complete contravention of Syrian NPT obligations And with North Korean help no less!)
    9) The Syrians went to great lengths to camouflage the site, suppress indicators, and then, immediately after the raid, rush to not only demolish the structure, but also bury the few heavy concrete remains to hide the evidence. They then rushed to build a concrete slab that extends beyond the original footprint in all four directions and then built another open-bay steel frame (blue) building on the slab to conceal any further activity under roof (my guess is that once the building was complete they have since dug up the center of the slab to remove the last of the incriminating evidence and then will have re-poured the floor. To any future outside visitor, new concrete looks just like new concrete)
    10) The Syrians, with only the North Koreans joining them, were the only nations to protest an airspace incursion by Israel, and nothing else was said (Asad was less than truthful when he said “nothing was damaged”)…and the Syrians even allowed the media to visit an agricultural site in Dayr az Zawr which they claimed was the target, but which was missed, “as all the Israeli bombs fell harmlessly in the desert”. They continue to refuse the IAEA access to investigate the issue. They are continuing in this BIG LIE by claiming that this was all a “ridiculous and laughable” CIA fabrication and that in a “Few Weeks” the truth will all come out. Another Whopper! The Syrians may be readying to bring in a well coordinated IAEA “visit”, and maybe even with a media entourage to walk around the new big blue building. They will probably allow them all to take a lot of photos and the media will say that they don’t see any evidence of a nuclear facility at the site and then go home content that it was all much ado about nothing.
    Unfortunately, it was indeed a reactor, of the kind claimed by both the ODNI and David Albright (and many posting here), to produce plutonium (and nothing else). And why plutonium? To make nuclear weapons with of course. The Syrians probably had intended to get the fuel from North Korea and they would later reprocess the spent fuel at another clandestine indigenous facility that had yet to be constructed (or yet to be found).
    This issue is among the IAEA’s and NPT’s greatest ever challenges (on par with Iraq and North Korea in the early 1990s) and for anyone to dismiss it as merely a CIA/Israeli fabrication, will only serve to aid and abet nuclear weapons proliferation by dangerous despots.

  5. FSB

    Hello from Pyongyang:

    Kind Sir, that is not a Byzantine fortress in Zippori. It is a secret Israeli graphite moderated reactor. If you send to my Nigerian colleague Mr. Abache electronically $USD 50,000.00 to NATIONAL BANK OF NIGERIA ACCT# 1582905-01A I will send you a series of internal photos showing said reactor vessel in various stages of construction. They will map very nicely to the internal duct and external windows of the “Byzantine fortress in Zippori”. I also have for sale photos of electrical inputs and water inputs to this alleged historical site.

    As we know, electricity and water pipes can only be used for nuclear reactors.

    With my kindest regards,

  6. wandering_cat (History)

    that is a wonderful work.
    would it be possible to have also the .skp files? (yeah i know santa is still far away ;-))

  7. FSB

    Re. comments by Afar:

    As I — and others — have posted before, the BoE may have been a nuclear facility but the publicly-released evidence does not prove this claim.

    For one, what is the water-treatment facility doing in the middle of nowhere? Why are people OK with having a “water-treatment” facility in the boonies and not OK with having a BoE in the middle of nowhere?

    As I — and others — have said before, it was a secret and, perhaps even illicit, Syrian/NK military facility with water pipes and electricity, just like my grandpa’s outhouse.

    I am not accusing the CIA of anything, esp. not fabrication of evidence.

    Can I say the same of Israeli Intelligence? No, I cannot vouch that the internal photos they have acquired/fabricated are of the inside of the BoE. Even Israeli intelligence may have been misled. This has all been discussed in previous posts.

    Having said that, it may have been nuclear-related, and most likely Mark Gubrud above hits the nail on the head in the first post above.

    To prove it was nuclear related one would have to link the inside photos to the Box.

    btw, the cylindrical canisters used for reverse osmosis in desalination plants look awfully like fuel rods, and in some cases centrifuges. Google it.

    Even if it was a mothballed nuclear facility, US participation in, and implicit green-lighting of, an illegal “pre-emptive” attack on said facility is inviting a counterpunch. Let’s just don’t wring our hands and ask “Why do they hate us?” when it occurs.

  8. SQ

    The observations of “From Afar” about signature masking and the correlation of the partly demolished overhead image with the ground-truth images are very well stated. Even if one is eager to dismiss the ground-truth images as falsified, something I judge unlikely for a number of reasons, one has to confront the picture of the exposed buried internal components, to all appearances the product of U.S. National Technical Means.

    I say this as someone who was strongly skeptical of claims that this was a reactor, prior to the public release of the IC presentation. It was compelling in a way that previously available evidence and analysis were not.

    It’s like the man said: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”

    There is more than one silent answer to that pointed rhetorical question, but “Rationalize my prior beliefs” may not be the best one. Doubling down on intellectual losses sooner or later leads to bankruptcy.

    The passing resemblance to ancient ruins is curious. Bizarre, actually, and probably just coincidence. But it could have been intended as a method of camouflage against a chance intrusion. One never knows. Perhaps it was even an architect’s private joke, or a tribute to local history. Whatever the case might be, it just adds to the strangeness of the entire matter. Icing on the cake.

  9. Yossi, Jerusalem

    I think the CIA/ISIS reports qualify as a conspiracy theory. They certainly don’t support each other since it looks like they cooperated from the start.

    There are some big holes in the CIA/ISIS arguments and probably others can be found. There are questions left unanswered.

    My instincts tell me we are missing some important point that will clarify the case. I plan to compile a (long) list of all data items and arguments in the hope it will help.

  10. FSB

    in your list please include a couple of questions to the effect:

    “What is the ‘water-treatment’ facility, and why is that structure OK, and the BoE not acceptable?”

    “From what town is the dirty water being treated there?”

  11. Yossi, Jerusalem

    FSB, I think you found a very interesting point.

    Please see the last posts at the “Syria’s Short Stack” page. Allen is answering your questions about the water treatment facility (WTF). It seems the water flowed like this: river, BoE, WTF, river.

    Now why treat the water coming out of BoE? Apparently they get contaminated in operation or could be contaminated if something went wrong. The interesting point is what kind of contamination, which one of the “atomic biological chemical” triad.

    Please note that the river near BoE is the source of life for countless people and Asad wouldn’t take the chance of poisoning them no matter by which agent.

    The following is very speculative but should be checked. An exothermic reaction involving very toxic materials inside a large chemical reactor will need cooling facilities similar to a nuclear reactor (i.e. large heat exchangers). The CW hypothesis may be consistent with all CIA photos except the “core top” and maybe even this one if you assume the “charge tubes” were actually for stirrers. BoE had room enough for a large chemical reactor, heat exchangers and a Scud D, all at the same time.

    Note that Syria doesn’t admit its CW capability and wouldn’t do this just to make the IAEA happy.

    Of course you could use the WTF with the cooling water of a nuclear reactor but note that everyone assumed so far that it’s ok to dump the water back in the river without any treatment. That’s why your idea is so important.

  12. Allen Thomson (History)

    > I plan to compile a (long) list of all data items and arguments in the hope it will help.

    Please do. Some sort of semi-structured discussion of the various issues is needed.

    BTW, does anybody here know of a decent (preferably free) program for generating timelines?

  13. Allen Thomson (History)

    Items I’d put on the list:

    What is the puropse of the building at 35.7093 N, 39.8327 E? Administration? Housing? Plutonium extraction?

    What is the purpose of the structure at 35.7073 N, 39.8330 E? (I think this may be the principal water-handling facility for the heat exchangers.)

    Assuming that the Syrians wanted to minimize construction time of the actual reactor building so they could put up the false walls and roof as soon as possible, how long would that have taken? Since the picture of the building with the false walls just going up probably was taken not later than mid-2002, when did ground-breaking occur?

    How much concrete was needed? Where did the water come from to mix it? (The WTF?)

  14. AWR (History)


    Just use the MS Visio trial. It’s ok, not great. Look forward to your post.

  15. FSB

    Thanks Yossi & Allen. Sorry I had not seen your reply in the earlier post.

    Interesting that WTF is built at a local high (altitude) point. Could the pipes in the Albright/Brannan report be water pipes and not conduits for electricity lines? Appears Syrians may have wanted to gravity feed water from WTF to BoE if indeed WTF is at a local altitude max.

    Incidentally, of interest in the Bulletin

    (Allen, googling “timeline generator” turned up a bunch of links but I did not sift thru them to see if they may be useful — at least some are free.)

  16. Hairs (History)

    Regarding the WTF, I think there is the danger of a false assumption in believing that it treats water coming OUT of the (putative) reactor. The fact is, no reactor designer worth his radiation badge is going to pump river water(!) through his lovely clean reactor core. It’s hard enough maintaining material integrity in a primary circuit at the best of times, what with radiation induced hydrolysis creating stacks of free radicals and oxygen, liberated hydrogen starting to hydride your welds into porosity, fluctuating oxidation-reduction potential playing havoc with any haematite / magnetite / other Fe(x)O(y) formation, and enough primary circuit chemistry issues to fund an entire industry of reactor chemists, journals, conferences, and Lord knows what else. Chapelcross and Calder Hall had four primary circuits, and if we assume Mr. Albright is correct, then the BOE probably had two. But one thing we can be confident of is that if the BOE really was a reactor, and here I should probably drop my caveats because I’m pretty much convinced that it was, then it did NOT have river water sloshing around its insides.

    Which means that the WTF is probably exactly what it appears to be: a water treatment facility. Only it is treating water that goes IN to the reactor. In this case most of what is seen in satellite photos (i.e. ponds and outbuildings) would be for show. The real business would be a comparatively small deep-well that draws water from the water table (the WTF is only 100m above the elevation of the river, which is nothing for the small volumes we would be dealing with), along with some sand beds, flocculants, ion exchange or reverse osmosis purifiers, last chance carbon filters, etc. If I am correct, then it probably wouldn’t make sense to do the final chemistry adjustments at the WTF because of the effects of the 5 km pipeline; but basically the WTF would be delivering make-up water for the primary circuit, possibly pre-dosed. Any final chemistry adjustments could then be made inside the reactor hall with a small water polishing plant and / or dosing skids before injection into the circuit. Wastes from the WTF (e.g. briny wastes if reverse osmosis is employed) could be conveniently diluted and disposed of down the little rivulet / wadi that is just east of the WTF and which seems to run back to the Euphrates.

    With the primary circuit’s water taken care of, the river extraction at the BOE itself is simply secondary water that is a rough and ready coolant. It requires very little processing (maybe some filtration down to few mm to keep the fish out and biocide dosing, such as 1 – 2 ppm NaOCl, to stop bacterial and slime formations clogging all the pipes). Either way, about 6000 kg/s, which requires only a few MW or so of pumping capacity, could easily take care of 25 MWth whilst keeping the tell-tale temperature rise to about 1 deg C. Once the secondary water is back in the river its free chlorine – if that is what was used for biocide dosing – would be consumed by the biological chlorine demand within a kilometre or so, and the temperature rise would be similarly diluted. Add to that the fact that there is very little radioactive transfer from primary to secondary side, and it would mean that (short of a leak from primary to secondary circuit) it would be hard to tell that there is a running reactor upstream just be taking some downstream water samples.

    With regard to the elevations: the WTF is shown on Google at about 326m, the BOE itself is about 295m, and the river is about 220m. This means that from the WTF to the BOE there’s a drop in elevation of about 30m, giving a piping slope (in very round numbers) of about 1 in 200. This kind of slope is absolutely ideal for a gravity fed system flowing through pipes approximately 1m in diameter. (N.B. Anything much narrower than 1m wouldn’t be resolved in ISIS’ pipe-laying photos, and certainly wouldn’t cast a recognisable shadow at the S.E. corner of the BOE where the pipe is presumed to enter the building.)

    As for the BOE, its secondary circuit has to pump water up about 75m, which is more than you’d like in a commercial plant. Normally you’d want to keep the difference in elevations to not much more than 10m, so that you can build a seal-pit and make maximum use of the siphon effect of water returning to its source in order to reduce your pumping requirements. However, I don’t see any evidence of a seal pit anywhere, so it remains a mystery for me why the BOE is located so high above the river level. I can only assume that it is placed where it is so that it is not visible from the road that runs along the eastern side of the Euphrates. If that is the case, then the consequence that a few extra MW have to be invested in pumping capacity is neither here nor there.

    As an aside on elevations and seal pits, the implication in the ISIS document is that it is suspicious that the discharge pipe is underwater. But this arrangement is not at all suspicious: if there is no seal pit then keeping the discharge underwater helps to prevent air locks in the piping and thus maximises whatever siphon effect that is present. Even if there is a seal pit, most discharges are located underwater in order to:
    a) Improve the mixing of the outfall (otherwise the warm discharge water may form a non-convecting layer on the water’s surface, and thus reduce oxygen transfer into the water).
    b) Reduce the unsightly foaming that arises from discharging onto the water’s surface.
    Thus in this case it’s just possible that the discharge is located for reasons of environmental friendliness!

    Regarding FSB’s comments that “…the cylindrical canisters used for reverse osmosis in desalination plants look awfully like fuel rods, and in some cases centrifuges…”; I’ve no strong opinions on whether they do or they don’t. But I think two factors do argue strongly AGAINST the BOE being a reverse osmosis desalination plant:

    1) The most obvious argument is: What was it supposed to be desalinating??? It’s right next to a river! Reverse osmosis is only of any use if you’re trying to produce demineralised water for some industrial application, or produce potable water from seawater – in which case re-mineralisation is necessary after the RO process. Even if the BOE was some super-large water treatment facility for greening the desert and supplying potable water, then I don’t believe it would have been based on RO. There are much cheaper and more effective ways of producing irrigation and potable water from rivers than putting it through an RO plant.
    2) Typical RO applications have to pump about 5x as much “intake” water as they produce product. This means that there is an overwhelming engineering and commercial pressure to place the plants at an elevation as close as possible to the source’s elevation. In short, if BOE was an RO water treatment facility then it should be at more or less the same level as the river, not 75m above it.

    Regarding the discussion on electricity supplies, I agree that the WTF makes a nice connection to the grid. But I certainly DON’T believe that the piping from WTF to BOE was a cable conduit. Firstly, the BOE is only going to consume around 10 MWe (perhaps 2 – 4 MWe for secondary pumping, 1 – 2 MWe for primary pumping, 2 – 4 MWe for gas blowers, and then a few odds and ends for control equipment, ventilation, beer fridge, etc), so what on earth does one need a 1m diameter cable conduit for??! The kind of cable that carries, if I’m generous, up to 20 MWe at some reasonable voltage – say 10 kV – is only going to be about the thickness of your arm. In any case, sticking the cable in the ground adds to the transmission losses because of increased capacitance to earth; but sticking it INSIDE a big metal pipe would hugely increase those losses. And for what? If you want to hide it from satellties then bury the cable a hand’s breadth under the soil and its tiny thermal emissions are already hidden.

    The only explanation that makes sense to me is that the pipe carries water, and the cable just shares the trench (with some reasonable separation to try to reduce the losses). When they both exit the ground at the BOE, the cable can then be mounted either on or alongside the pipe so that it is supported in its (short) span to the building itself.

  17. Yossi, Jerusalem

    ISIS says the trench line from BoE to the water treatment facility (WTF) runs electricity. They say it’s located underground in order to deceive analysts (actually this is common practice for safety reasons). In DG photo closeup from 2007-08-05 (see The Sourcebook) the line looks bent under its own weight near BoE like an electric line but there is probably also a parallel water line because:

    * The trench line is too wide (~2m) for even several buried electricity lines

    * It goes in large straight sections which don’t follow the road to the WTF

    * It has a short branch leading nowhere (but this is strange any way you look at it)

    * It enters the WTF near the “oxygenation pond”

    * It provides a role and purpose to the WTF

    * The WTF area is saturated with electricity poles

    * There is a similar outgoing(?) line from the WTF

    * The outgoing line goes back to the river

    There is a pipe connecting the WTF with a fairly large town 10km to the north. Water coming from BoE were probably mixed with urban sewage water, treated and then dumped in the river.

    The CIA buried hot water line to the river probably didn’t exist.

    It looks like BoE got water from the river and contaminated them so much that a water treatment facility was needed before they were dumped back in the river. Note that just spilling them somewhere was not ok since they could get back to the river by some underground route. Well, if BoE produced contaminated water that were too dangerous to dump in the river it was probably a CW facility not a nuclear reactor.

  18. Yossi, Jerusalem

    * The Norks informing on the Syrians doesn’t rule out it was a CW facility.

    * Both the earthen walls and berm were probably used for stormwater diversion.

    * I think the Syrians didn’t try to deceive anyone, they just did their thing and the CIA is inventing a conspiracy theory.

    * Even if it was a pure research reactor the Israelis would have bombed it and the Syrians knew this (Osirak) so they had to keep it secret.

    * The Syrians may have been faced with a dilemma: admit a CW violation or NPT violation. They chose to gain time.

    * The ground photos may be a of chemical reactor. They are not like Yongbyon or Calder Hall. See for yourself, the king is naked.

    * Hairs, Yongbyon’s primary coolant is CO2. The secondary is water. If there is a water line between BoE and WTF it’s probably the hot water outlet that we couldn’t find before.

    * I talked with a seasoned electrical engineer. He says the trench line couldn’t be only electricity, it’s just too wide. This was probably a dual purpose line.

  19. Hairs (History)

    Yossi: Sorry, I didn’t explain myself very well. Yes, I agree that the “primary” coolant is CO2. But in a power reactor the heat exchangers transfer heat from the CO2 to a water-steam loop. The generated steam is used in a steam turbine, and this steam is then condensed by a separate water loop, which is the one that uses seawater / river water. So in fact there are (strictly speaking) three cooling loops in standard gas-graphite power reactors. When I referred to “primary” and “secondary” loops I was referring only to the water loops (which I admit was a sloppy mistake).

    Since BOE, presumably, does not have a steam turbine for energy extraction it must have a somewhat larger cooling system connected to the river. But that does not detract from the fact that it could only run at maximum power (= maximum Pu production) if it has a loop of high-quality water that is INSIDE the pressurised carbon dioxide circuit, and a separate loop of water, which can be of lower quality, that transfers the heat to the river.

    The alternative would be to use river water in a single pass directly through the pressurised CO2. But to do this results in one of two undesirable outcomes:

    1) The river water could be pressurised to prevent it turning to steam while it is inside the heat exchanger. However, once it leaves the cooling circuit to return to the river it must be depressurised again, at which point it will flash to steam anyway. Therefore the designers face a choice of either dealing with clouds and clouds of steam, or else they must run the cooling circuit with an outlet temperature less than 100 deg C. If they run at < 100 deg C then this will severely limit the upper gas temperature, which severely limits reactor power, which limits Pu production to the point where it is hardly worthwhile.
    2) The river water can be allowed to boil while inside the heat exchanger, which will massively increase the heat transfer from the carbon dioxide to the water (convective i.e. non-boiling heat transfer is good for about 200 – 1000 W / m2 deg C depending on materials and geometry, whereas boiling heat transfer will increase that to about 1000 – 40000 W / m2 deg C). Thus allowing boiling in the heat exchanger will permit the reactor to run at anything up to 40x the thermal power of a non-boiling circuit. However, you still have to deal with the steam! Even worse, as the water boils it leaves all its salts and suspended / dissolved solids behind in the liquid phase. Hot water also becomes much more acidic at high temperatures: for example, pure water at 250 deg C (equivalent to a pressure of around 40 bar) has a pH of only 5.5. Consequently the region of your pipes where the phase transition occurs – and at steady state this is only a few tens of mm long – will have a high acidity and high concentration of salts. Thus within a few months you’ll have a tube failure due to corrosion, the consequences of which are either flooding of your pristine reactor with river water (resulting in a Chernobyl-type steam explosion followed by core meltdown, ignition of the magnesium clad, and God knows what more) or else, if you run the water circuit at a pressure significantly lower than the gas circuit, a total loss of cooling accident. Assuming that the BOE isn’t over-designed with safety systems, then a total LOCA is also a good bet for meltdown and subsequent fire.

    In summary, you can only run such a reactor in the long term if you operate a boiling water circuit to cool the CO2. And that circuit, if it is to survive more than a few months, MUST have highly purified water with a well controlled chemistry. Since you don’t want to be blowing off such water at the rate of several tonnes per second, this also means that you must have a secondary water circuit (= tertiary overall cooling circuit) in order to condense the high-quality steam and return it as liquid to the gas-water heat exchangers.

    Overall then:
    Primary circuit = Gas circuit. This may or may not be inside the biological shield, but it is definitely inside the pressure boundary.
    Secondary circuit = High-purity water-steam loop. This may or may not have a steam turbine (electricity production is a nice civil application to justify the reactor, as was done at Chapelcross and Calder Hall), but it will definitely have a condenser.
    Tertiary circuit = A loop for cooling the water side of the condenser. The tertiary circuit runs from and to the ultimate heat sink, which in the case of the BOE appears to be the Euphrates.

  20. Yossi, Jerusalem

    * Hairs, thanks for the explanation! It’s very interesting and important.

    * Sorry, I was carried away. Of course the “core top” photo could be some intermediate stage in the construction of a Magnox reactor but it could be something else.

    * I think we all got “presentation shock”. This happens when people see a well done presentation made by an acknowledged authority at a suitable time. This experience can be so overwhelming that it paralyzes free thinking for a long time.

    * If you buy the idea the Syrians are masters of deception think they wanted to hide the hot water outlet pipe by passing it to the river via the water treatment facility.

  21. Gump (History)

    Hairs, a one meter pipe seems awfully large only to be used to provide treated water to a CLOSED-loop. Is it plausible the gravity fed 1 meter pipe could be used as an emergency backup to prevent a LOCA?

  22. Hairs (History)

    Gump: You’re quite right – a 1m pipe does seem “awfully large”, and I really don’t have a very good response for that (for my best guess please see below). Of course, everything we do on this site is, as one of my former colleagues used to say, like “knitting fog” i.e. we’re trying to turn some tenuous wisps of information into a coherent explanation. So the best I can offer is to try and put some constraints on what I think it could, or could NOT, be based of the limits of physics, engineering, etc, and then launder that in a bucket of plausibility. If I’m wrong, and there’s a very good chance that I am about many things here, then I’ll be delighted to acknowledge the better explanations. Anyway before I address the pipe size I’d like to first use this post to get an opinion off my chest…

    There’s been a lot of discussion about what the BOE and WTF are. My penny’s worth runs along the lines of:

    * The building is certainly large enough – especially if it extended deep underground – to house a “Yongbyon-type” reactor.

    * The US Government has published photos that they claim supports the interpretation of it being a reactor under construction. Certainly I don’t think we’ve seen anything from the US Government that is directly contradicted by publicly available information, including satellite photos. OK, OK, I know there’s the counter-argument that “they would check to make sure of that” – but even so USG could hardly claim NUCLEAR REACTOR! if the Syrians had put up something no bigger than a bicycle shelter and a street lamp.

    * The Israelis bombed the place, which in my understanding constitutes an act of war, yet the US did not utter a peep of condemnation. Whether USG knew about the bombing shortly before or shortly after it happened doesn’t really make much difference to me; I still like to think that if Israel had not been able to convince the US that there was a strong justification for this action – even though it may have been (indeed, probably was) illegal – then the US would have said something, or the ugly truth would have leaked in another fashion. Thus for all my cynicism about international politics I don’t think the decision to bomb, or the tacit support of the US, was undertaken lightly.

    * If the facility had been a home for widows and orphans, or a baby milk factory (a la Somalia) then I don’t believe the Syrians would have lost more than five minutes in bringing in the BBC, CNN, IAEA, and my dear old Auntie Doris in order to show how innocent they were. Yet instead they put up another structure as fast as they could, and to all intents and purposes tried to sweep the remains under the desert carpet. I know that in law Syria is entitled to be considered innocent until proven guilty, but in the words of the Prophet Gershwin: “It ain’t necessarily so!” As a country they’ve got a previous as long as my arm (both arms in fact, because I’m rather short!), so why aren’t they screaming for the world to come and see how innocent they were? It is this, more than anything else, that makes me think: Guilty, Guilty, Guilty.

    In short, I see a big box that’s claimed to be a nuclear reactor, and nothing so far that directly contradicts this explanation. I also see a country that has every reason to shout “foul!” if they have been falsely accused (and attacked), yet they remain silent and do not invite corroboration of their innocence. Well, if it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then even if it ain’t exactly a duck we should certainly be revisiting what we know about waterfowl…

    OK, with chest suitably cleared let me come back to the real world and address the point about the pipe size. The first issue is: How big ARE the pipes in the satellite images? I initially suggested 1m, and they do look look about 1 metre(ish), but having done some calculations I now agree that 1m seems a bit large. So could they conceivably be, say 0.3m (= about 1 foot)? Well I guess if they’re lying on the ground then it’s possible that what we’re really seeing is the pipe plus the shadow width. If he’s reading this post, maybe Allen Thomson could help – he certainly commands my respect with regard to satellite imagery.

    Anyway, if we take 1m diameter as a starting point, assume a 5.5 km pipe run, and also assume the pipes are steel with a slight coating of rust on the inside, then you can transfer about 6000 – 7000 kg/s using just gravity. In this case the pressure due to the 30m height difference is about 3 bar, and the pressure loss at 6000 kg/s flow (depending on whether you prefer Hazen Williams, Colebrook, Karmen, or whomever) is about 2.6 bar. But 6,000 kg/s is an awful lot of flow!

    Therefore I’d turn the problem around and ask what diameter pipe is necessary in order to achieve a given flow with an acceptably low, say < 0.5 bar, pressure loss. The key issue in this case, though, is how much flow? What’s the upper limit on how much demineralised water a reactor at BOE could want? Which brings us to LOCA:

    First of all, if “LOCA” refers to a total loss of CO2 pressure then no amount of water flow is going to help if there’s insufficient CO2 density to carry the heat out of the core without reaching choked flow in the channels. I like to think that if the Syrians had only two gas loops then they had a minimum of 2 × 100% capacity. If not, well, I prefer not think about what the consequences could have been…

    If, however, we restrict “LOCA” here to mean a significant loss of water from the primary water circuit, then in the immediate aftermath of anything unpleasant we’ve got about 25 MWth to get rid of. Moreover, the primary circuit will effectively be at atmospheric pressure – after all, it’s got a big hole in it. Therefore the easiest way would be to allow the water to boil in the heat exchanger and vent the steam (either controllably through a vent valve, or else uncontrollably via the leakage) to atmosphere. If you further assume the inlet water – let’s say from the WTF – is 30 deg C, then in exceptionally round numbers you can remove 25 MWth by boiling off about 10 kg/s. As an alternative, if the water doesn’t (quite) boil, but the hot water is still pouring all over the floor and needs to be made up, then you could remove 25 MWth with about 100 kg/s.

    So the question becomes, how big does a steel pipe have to be to carry 10 kg/s or 100 kg/s under 30m of head across 5.5 km with a pressure loss < 0.5 bar. The answers, again exceedingly rough and rounded, turn out to be about 0.125m and 0.3m.

    When you consider that any circuit will need considerable flushing during the construction and commissioning phase, and will undoubtedly be drained and filled a few more times in the life of the reactor, designing a filling capability of up to about 100 kg/s is eminently plausible.

    Of course, none of this addresses the second issue of where so much make-up water would come from in the event of a LOCA. The Syrians are unlikely to build a treatment facility sized for 100 kg/s if that capacity is only going to be used a few times during construction, and maybe during an accident. Instead they might build a good sized storage tank, say 10,000 m3, which would see them through the first day and then let them match their water production capability only to the requirements of removing decay heat. (You’d hardly get a licence for this type of design in the west, but it’s a functional possibility even if rather scary). Now I don’t see any big outside tank at WTF, but if one exists it could equally be inside a building. Or maybe the rectangular “swimming pools” at the WTF are really closed storage tanks, with just shallow pools of “normal” water on top in order to look the part. (Which would bring us neatly back to President Assad’s naked swimming pool theory!).

    In summary, if the WTF is a water production facility for the BOE, then a pipe diameter of up to 0.3m could be plausible. But if the pipes are truly 1m diameter then my theories get very shaky, because I really can’t see any justification for such a size.

    As for our discussion of “LOCA”, well here I’m building assumptions upon assumptions – before long I’ll be spouting about mobile bio-weapons labs! – but if it’s a reactor, and if it’s a water treatment facility, and IF the Syrians had designed and prepared for significant accidents, then the pipeline forming part of a LOCA response isn’t impossible (at least in terms of engineering plausibility).

  23. Yossi, Jerusalem

    Allen, I have some dumb questions: where can we see the photos detailed in Appendix B of The Sourcebook? All these IRS, ISS, Ikonos, SPOT images? Can we see whole DG photos that parts of them appear in The Sourcebook? What about older Google Earth covers?

    I didn’t forget my promise to compile a list of data items and arguments. I opened a blog for this purpose and struggle now with the software.

  24. Yossi, Jerusalem

    * I think the BoE/WTF line is a 1m deep trench with sea sand filling on the bottom, one water pipe and one electricity cable running inside the sand at a distance 0.6-1.0m and the excavated dirt fills and covers the trench. That’s standard operation procedure. The added sand filling and the dirt cover being unpacked create a 1.5-2m wide shallow mound that we see in the photos.

    * At Lat 35.700126, Lon 39.887395 we see a leak from the pipe and it looks dark. This is not proof the pipe is carrying dirty water because other nearby spots of ground have the same color. At Lat 35.701004 Lon 39.884052 there may be another such leak. There is yet another suspect leak at: Lat 35.703693 Lon 39.868233. Then appears the strangest feature, a trench branch that goes nowhere at Lat 35.704252 Lon 39.865145.

    * Why all these leaks? Welding pipes is not easy (and pressure vessels also) but it could be the liquid running in the pipe was corrosive. The French archaeologists say the ground is gypsum so maybe there is problem when it rains.

    * There are wonderful Russian military topo maps of the area. I saw a thumbnail of one costing $79 and ate my heart. The CIA wall map gives some info and can be found at: Don’t forget to click on it for enlargement.

  25. Hairs (History)

    I’ve been discussing my recent posts with some colleagues, and after they’d finished mocking my general thickness and goldfish-like memory, they were kind enough to remind me that carbon steel is completely unsuitable for demineralised water (apologies to all for forgetting that!). And since no-one is going to put in 5.5 km of 300 mm stainless steel – not at today’s prices, anyway – that means that if the piping is truly for demin then it is probably made out of CPVC. Either that, or I have just to forget the idea of a demin water supply.

    I suppose that CPVC is perfectly reasonable, after all it’s used for industrial water piping and sometimes for domestic water and sewage, but if I was running demin across 5 km I’d be worried about pipe fracture and contamination, and for that reason I’d want metal.

    So, do you go with Mr. Goldfish-memory, and it’s a CPVC pipe for carrying demin (not impossible, but seems a bit strange)?… or was it all nothing to do with water (in which case what on earth WAS the pipe for??). I’d say the odds on Mr. Goldfish-memory being generally correct about the WTF supplying demin are now significantly reduced. So ‘yer pays ‘yer money, and ‘yer takes ‘yer choice…

    And a sincere “sorry” for neglecting something so obvious.

  26. Allen Thomson (History)

    > Allen, I have some dumb questions: where can we see the photos detailed in Appendix B of The Sourcebook? All these IRS, ISS, Ikonos, SPOT images? Can we see whole DG photos that parts of them appear in The Sourcebook? What about older Google Earth covers?

    As far as I know, you’d have to got to DigitalGlobe or GeoEye and buy them. And they’re not cheap. I suppose you could go to the companies and try to sweet-talk them into releasing the images pro bono and pro advertising.

  27. Allen Thomson (History)

    > Well I guess if they’re lying on the ground then it’s possible that what we’re really seeing is the pipe plus the shadow width. If he’s reading this post, maybe Allen Thomson could help – he certainly commands my respect with regard to satellite imagery.

    You are too kind… You are also right to be distrustful of the imagery, at least when the dimension in question is at or below the claimed resolving power of the satellite’s telescope. Basically, I’d say we can’t tell much about the pipe diameter from the pix, at least not enough to be relevant to the present discussion.

  28. Allen Thomson (History)

    Interesting newsbit in the Jerusalem Post. If it’s true, one wonders what the two other facilities are. Maybe the WTF and ?


    Analysis: An attempt to break the Iranian-Syrian alliance
    May 21, 2008 22:59 | Updated May 22, 2008 6:55


    Also of concern are the news reports that emerged on Wednesday, according to which inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) were denied access to two facilities in Syria suspected of being connected to the nuclear reactor that Israel bombed and destroyed along the Euphrates River in September. The nature of the facilities has not been exposed, but it leaves open the possibility that Syria may still have operational components of its destroyed nuclear program.

  29. Yossi, Jerusalem

    I still don’t buy the nuclear reactor idea but here is a possible (nuclear) link between BoE and the water treatment facility (WTF).

    You need such a facility to provide suitable water for the spent fuel pool. See for example:

    Assuming USIC is right, you would expect a treated water line from the WTF to Boe.

    Isn’t it strange we didn’t hear about this possible connection?

  30. Hairs (History)

    At the risk of making my previous comments seem even less well considered, I can’t reconcile parts of the ISIS report with plausibility. In particular, plenty of satellite photos taken BEFORE the bombing show a line / trench / structure / call it what you will between the WTF and BOE. Yet Figure 30 of the ISIS report – dated 09 Jan 2008, and consequently taken well AFTER the bombing – shows a whole lot of pipes lined up alongside the trench, and what appears to be either a digger or a crane.

    The photo looks like it is showing pipes being put into the earth. But why complete the piping if the BOE is already destroyed? (And if the piping was critical to the functioning of the BOE, then the lack of piping at the time of the bombing means that the BOE wasn’t so close to functionality as we have been led to believe).

    On the other hand, if the photo is simply an image of pipes being pulled out of the ground, then why do we see some sections apparently connected and others not? Usually if you’re scrapping something it is cheapest, and logistically easiest, to cut it into manageable pieces in situ and then haul it away. I certainly can’t see any advantage in trying to pull great long sections whole out of the ground, only to cut them up once they’re lying on the desert surface. If the pipe is CPVC or plain carbon steel it’s probably not cost effective to pull it out anyway. If it’s stainless then it might be financially worthwhile – but would Syria really want to (literally) uncover further evidence for the sake of a few million?

    Yossi’s suggestion that the WTF was to supply water for a cooling pond could well be right. I no longer remember the typical water quantity or quality requirements for Magnox cooling ponds (I’ll try to look them up in an idle moment) but one thing a cooling pond certainly won’t be containing is river water, so some kind of water treatment is needed for the ponds.

    But assuming that the 09 Jan 2008 photo is showing pipes going INTO the ground, the question still remains: Why complete the piping if the BOE has already been destroyed??

  31. Hairs (History)

    A quick surf threw up this interesting 1994 article, also by ISIS, on the pond chemistry of the North Korean reactor:

    Obviously the ponds use demin, but I hadn’t realised before what a very reducing environment they must maintain: typical pH is 11.5 – 12.0 (and the chemistry page at the British Nuclear Group says 11.7 for the UK Magnox ponds). This means that atmospheric CO2 dissolving into the water will be forever lowering the pH (i.e. making it more acidic by the formation of carbonic acid). Consequently Albright mentions carbonate removal – presumably by anion exchange columns. Ion exchange seems anyway necessary in order to remove the chlorides and sulphates. Lastly, whether because of, or in spite of, the ion exchangers, Albright mentions a typical turnover rate of about 10% of the pond’s volume per day.

    Alternatively, if one is less concerned about the environment, one could dispense with some of the ion exchange, and possibly also the refrigeration system for removing the decay heat and reducing the corrosion rates, and instead just “bleed and feed” the pond a bit more. Thus a 10% volume per day turnover rate is probably at the lower end of what any Syrian pond would be using.

    So if we assume that the fuel bundles are a few metres long; that they’re going to be spread out over a few square metres across the bottom of a pond; and, finally, that they’ll require at least ca. 10 metres of water over the top of them in order to shield any personnel, then there is probably something in the region of 50 – 100 cubic metres per pond. At a 10% turnover rate that means 5 – 10 cubic metres of demin use every day, which argues for a reliable source of demin water. Of course, these quantities are much less than the 10 – 100 kg/s discussed above with respect to cooling circuits and LOCAs, but there’s no reason (apart from safety considerations!) why there shouldn’t be one pipe supplying demin as far as the BOE, and then having the branches (and dosing units) for individual consumers within the building itself.

    So Yossi’s idea of the WTF supplying demin for cooling ponds seems very plausible to me. Which makes it even more strange that the Syrians appear to have continued to install a pipe between WTF and BOE even several months after the BOE had been bombed…

  32. dreamer
  33. Gump

    My final opinion on this post before it is archived: The designers of BoE put a “plenum” or large room on the upper level with large holes through the walls to dissipate the overpressure from an (HE?) explosion (a common design feature of naked swimming pools in the region).

  34. Yossi, Jerusalem

    Hairs thanks!

    * Using suitable water in the spent fuel pond was especially important since the Syrians didn’t have a reprocessing facility ready and their spent fuel could stay in the pool for years.

    * The CIA presentation shows near the new big box a pipe trench which seems to be new. It’s probably connected to the river and goes in the general direction of the WTF. Do we have both an old and a new BoE/WTF pipe?

    * The link “dreamer” gives in his post is broken but the link associated with his nickname leads to a doc about BoE.

    * I have reason to believe our discussions are followed by the USIC and the French government. Are they afraid we will show BoE was not nuclear?

    * About the superstructure having big holes to dissipate explosion overpressure. It seems the second largest building and the truck parking lot were built under the assumption BoE may explode some day and you have to protect whatever is in the neighborhood. Another indication BoE was a CW facility? Remember the A-Safir accident…

  35. Yossi, Jerusalem

    I found an interesting summary draft about the flaws in the CIA/ISIS theory of nuclear BoE. It’s possible to add comments like a blog. I think it’s the same stuff “dreamer” published but then his link went dead.