Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday announced that he intends to rename the Dimona nuclear reactor in southern Israel for the late president and prime minister Shimon Peres.
At the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu told ministers, “I intend to rename the Negev Nuclear Research Center in Dimona after Shimon Peres.”
“He was very active in establishing this important project for Israel’s security for generations, and I think that it’s appropriate and right to name the compound after him,” the prime minister said.
The announcement came nearly two weeks after Peres, an elder statesman who held nearly every high office in Israel, died at 93.
When he was still in his 30s, during the 1950s, Peres played a key part in Israel’s pursuit of a nuclear capability at the urging of Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion.
He reached a secret agreement with France that led to the building of a nuclear reactor at Dimona, which went critical around 1962.
Israel is now considered to be the Middle East’s sole nuclear-armed power, although it has never confirmed it, maintaining a policy of ambiguity.
It is estimated to have produced enough weapons-grade plutonium at Dimona to arm between 100 and 200 nuclear warheads, according to the US-based Nuclear Threat Initiative.
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Following his death, in a rare statement, Ze’ev Snir, head of Israel’s Atomic Energy Commission, paid tribute to Peres’s “substantive contribution” to the establishment of the Negev Nuclear Research Center near Dimona, and to the “founding of Israel’s nuclear policy as a significant plank in ensuring the national strength of the country.”
Peres, who was president and twice prime minister, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 for his role in negotiating the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians, and saw no contradiction between that achievement and his nuclear efforts.
“Dimona helped us to achieve Oslo,” he told Time magazine in an interview in February.
“Because many Arabs, out of suspicion, came to the conclusion that it’s very hard to destroy Israel because of it, because of their suspicion.
“Well if the result is Dimona, I think I was right. Anyway, we’ve never threatened anybody with nuclear bombs, and we’ve never tested it.”
Last week, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz said he would consider naming the Ayalon Highway, which goes through Tel Aviv, for Peres.