November 6, 2011
After a four-year search for hidden atomic facilities in Syria, U.N. officials appeared this week to have finally struck gold: News reports linked a large factory in eastern Syria to a suspected clandestine effort to spin uranium gas into fuel for nuclear bombs.
But after further probing by private researchers, Syria’s mystery plant is looking far less mysterious. A new report concludes that the facility and its thousands of fast-spinning machines were intended to make not uranium, but cloth — a very ordinary cotton-polyester.
“It is, and always has been, a textile factory,” said one of the researchers, Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear policy expert at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies and publisher of the blog Arms Control Wonk.
Lewis and his colleagues were initially intrigued by news reports that linked Syria’s al-Hasakah Spinning Co. to the country’s clandestine nuclear program, which came to light four years ago when Israeli warplanes bombed a building that turned out to be a partly completed plutonium reactor.