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Concerns about the safety of Israel’s aging Dimona nuclear reactor

Israel’s Dimona nuclear reactor isn’t Chernobyl, but does have vulnerabilities  A disaster at Israel’s reactor would be far less catastrophic than the 1986 meltdown, but the core is being kept in service far longer than intended, and experts warn that’s risky, Times of Israel, By JUDAH ARI GROSS 24 June 19, The hit television miniseries “Chernobyl” has reminded the world of the ever-present specter of a nuclear catastrophe made possible by the deadly combination of negligence, ignorance and incompetence…….

The effects of the reactor explosion are still seen and felt today, inside the exclusion zone and far beyond, with a still unfolding impact on people, wildlife and plants. Notably, hundreds of thousands of so-called liquidators risked their lives and long-term health to contain the radiation after the explosion, including some 1,500 who live in Israel and are woefully neglected by the government.
Could such a catastrophe occur in Israel’s own nuclear reactor, the Shimon Peres Negev Nuclear Research Center outside Dimona, in the south of the country? In a rocket strike on the facility — which IranHezbollahPalestinian Islamic JihadHamas and Syria have each threatened or attempted to carry out — would large swaths of the Jewish state become contaminated with radioactive material? Or what about in a large earthquake along the Syrian-African rift, which is expected at some point in the coming years?
………… there are safety concerns connected to Dimona — namely that its core is aging, and will nevertheless continue to be used as Israel is unlikely to get a new one — and these often go undiscussed in public due to the largely classified nature of the facility, which produces fissile material for nuclear weapons, according to foreign media reports.
Israel is believed by foreign governments and media to be the Middle East’s sole nuclear power, but has long refused to confirm or deny that it has nuclear weapons, and officially maintains that the Dimona plant focuses on research and energy provision ……
In a nuclear catastrophe in Dimona, cleaning up this molecule    [Cesium-137 ] — which can easily mix with groundwater and is readily absorbed by people, animals and plants — would present a significant challenge, requiring large amounts of resources. This radioactive molecule is still being foundin marine life around Japan, some eight years after the meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear reactor.  ………

Rocket attacks aren’t the only threat

In addition to the overt threats posed to the Dimona nuclear reactor by terror groups and enemy nations, as well as by earthquakes and other natural disasters, one of the less-discussed concerns surrounding the core is its advancing age and Israel’s apparent resolve to keep it running regardless, the expert said.

The Dimona nuclear core, which was given to Israel by France and went active in the early 1960s, is one of the oldest still operating in the world.

Originally designed to operate for 40 years, the core is now being pushed to remain in service for twice that, according to the expert.

This is not from frugality or unwillingness on Israel’s part to purchase a new core, but a legal inability or disinclination by the countries that produce these cores to sell one to the Jewish state, as Jerusalem refuses to sign the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which is meant to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.

As a result of Israel’s inability to replace the nuclear core, it is motivated to keep it in service for as long as possible, the atomic expert said, replacing and upgrading whatever parts it can and carefully monitoring the components it can’t for any possible “show-stopping” signs of trouble, notably in its aluminum reactor tank…….

Despite the government’s assurances, several Israeli nuclear experts — including some of the scientists who founded the Dimona reactor — as well as politicians have for years been calling for the aging core to be shut down over the risks it posed. ……

One of the central issues regarding Dimona’s safety is that it has no independent oversight. Since Israel is a non-signatory of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, the International Atomic Energy Agency do not inspect the site, nor do American inspectors, who did monitor the reactor in its early days until they determined that their checks were effectively worthless as many aspects of the site were being kept hidden from them. Instead, the reactor is monitored by Israel’s Atomic Energy Commission — the same body that is responsible for running it.

The highly classified nature of the work there also limits the amount of public debate about the nuclear research center……..

This secrecy and lack of independent oversight means Israelis (and to a lesser extent Jordanians) can only hope that the government is doing its all to prevent a nuclear catastrophe — albeit one that would be far smaller than Chernobyl.


June 25, 2019 - Posted by | Israel, safety

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