Under an IAEA project, first approved in 1984 and completed in 1991, six IAEA missions were sent to Syria to advise the counterparts on site selection. The Agency's assistance on site selection was accelerated during Syria's negotiations with USSR suppliers for a 10 MW reactor, but the negotiations later broke down. After intensive historical, earthquake and geological studies, three potential sites were identified near Damascus and one of them was selected for the Miniature Neutron Source Research (MNSR) Reactor project. A training course on research reactor utilization was organized in Poland for 10 Syrian scientists. All objectives of the project were incorporated into IAEA Project SYR/4/004, under which a miniature neutron source reactor was procured.
The Argentine Council for International Affairs (CARI) reported that "In May of 1989, the General Director of the Atomic Energy Committee of Syria visited Bariloche, Argentina in order to initiate negotiations for the purchase of a complete atomic center. Syria had already received a Russian bid for a 10 MW reactor, with adequate financing. Nevertheless, in October a bid was submitted for a nuclear center built around a small research reactor of 1 to 3 MW. A year later, in October of 1990, an extended bid was prepared. The proposed nuclear center would be located in Homs; its size would be 150 to 200,000 square feet, and it would have departments of biology, physics, geology, agriculture and auxiliary services... The amount of the contingent contract would exceed US$ 250 million... By the end of 1991...these negotiations, which were quite advanced, were halted...in August of 1995, after the Argentinean President's visit to Syria, contacts were renewed. The Syrian nuclear organization submitted an order for a 5 to 10 MW research reactor, a waste treatment plant and a radioisotope production plant. A letter of intent to commence within 24 months was signed. INVAP would be the supplier and the contract was to be signed in August of 1997, but this never took place. At the end of 1996, Syria purchased cobalt-therapy equipment, through an international bid, for a price of US$ 300,000."
In 1991, China reported to the IAEA the potential sale of a 30 KW research reactor to Syria. The IAEA blocked the sale and Syria subsequently reduced its nuclear activities.
In 1997, it was reported that the Russian government was interested in selling a nuclear reactor to Syria. On 23 February 1998, Syria and Russia signed an agreement on the peaceful use of nuclear energy. In July 1998, the two sides agreed on the time table for the realization of a 25 MW light water nuclear research center project in Syria with the participation of Russia's Atomstroyeksport and Nikiet. In addition, Russia and Syria have approved a draft program on cooperation on civil nuclear power. Broader access to Russian expertise could provide opportunities for Syria to expand its indigenous capabilities, should it decide to pursue nuclear weapons. According to a London Financial Times report on 16 January 2003, Russian government sources indicated that Russia was negotiating to build a nuclear power plant in Syria, but Syrian officials said they could neither confirm nor deny the report.
Under IAEA Project SYR/4/004, completed 25 May 1998, the Agency assisted the Syrian Atomic Energy Commission to purchase and install a Chinese 30 kW miniature neutron source reactor (MNSR) at Dayr Al Hajar (Der Al-Hadjar). The project was funded from the TCF and through a GCS contribution from the counterpart. Extensive expert services and training enabled the counterpart staff to acquire knowledge and expertise in evaluating the seismicity of the reactor site, in licensing research reactors and operators, in preparing and reviewing the Safety Analysis Report, in operating and utilizing the reactor, in developing an irradiation facility and an R&D programme, in establishing radiation protection measures and in carrying out the safety analysis of the MNSR. As a result of the project, "Syria MNSR" has been installed in Der Al-Hadjar Nuclear Research Centre near Damascus and was fully operational. A local capability had been established to use the reactor as a source of neutrons for NAA, for the limited production of short lived radioisotopes and for training staff and students.
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