Russia is warning the West that in the event of a military strike on Syria, there is a chance that a missle could hit a Miniature Neutron Source Reactor, or MNSR, outside of the capital city of Damascus, which could be "catastrophic."
The Russian Foreign Ministry said:
"If a warhead, by design or by chance, were to hit the Miniature Neutron Source Reactor near Damascus, the consequences could be catastrophic.
The MNSR in question in Syria is a Chinese-designed nuclear reactor modeled on a small Canadian reactor built in the early 1970s. These fission reactors are not powerful enough to provide regional electric power or other utility needs, and were designed as research tools for neutron activation analysis, medical isotope production, scientific training, and neutron radiography.
MNSRs and the majority of other research reactors have a nuclear core that consists of about 2 pounds of highly enriched uranium. Typically, the core is made of uranium-235 that has been 90 percent enriched, says the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The core is cooled in a pool of water, and is surrounded by a casing about 4 inches thick made of beryllium.
The MNSR design has proven to be safe, reliable, and simple to operate. However, there have been on-going concerns about the use of highly enriched uranium-235 in these type of reactors. Just a small amount of U235 is needed by MNSRs, but at 90 percent enrichment it is strong enough to be referred to as "weapons grade" uranium.