Scientists find 1,537 defects in Dimona reactor’s core — report
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Scientists find 1,537 defects in Dimona reactor’s core — report

Aging nuclear facility still operationally sound and presents no immediate threat, but experts warn no long-term solution in place

The Nuclear Research Center NEGEV, located in Dimona. (screen capture: YouTube, via Channel 10)
The Nuclear Research Center NEGEV, located in Dimona. (screen capture: YouTube, via Channel 10)

Breakthrough ultrasound testing has revealed 1,537 defects and flaws at the aluminum core in Israel’s nuclear facility situated near the southern city of Dimona.

Scientists who studied the 53-year-old nuclear reactor last year said that, for now, the defects don’t pose any immediate danger. The findings were released during a scientific forum held in Tel Aviv this month, Haaretz reported Tuesday, the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

The most pressing issue discussed in the forum was safety concerns pertaining to the stability of the core, although scientists declared that there was no immediate threat and that the high levels of scrutiny were mainly due to a “strict supervisory attitude.”

Other topics discussed at the forum were employee safety, protection of the core against missiles, and reinforcement of the facility against earthquakes.

Archive photo from the 1960s of the nuclear reactor compound near Dimona, in southern Israel. (Reproduced from www.nsarchive.org with the permission of the National Security Archive)
Archive photo from the 1960s of the nuclear reactor compound near Dimona, in southern Israel. (Reproduced from www.nsarchive.org with the permission of the National Security Archive)

The core’s reactor is made of cement-coated metal. The fuel rods are inserted into the core, where nuclear fusion takes place.

Over the years, the core absorbs tremendous amounts of heat and radiation, which slowly cause a degeneration of its materials.

The Dimona core, which was provided by France in the 1950s and put into action in 1963, was intended to be operational for up to 40 years. But it has exceeded the intended time frame by over a decade, to the consternation of scientists at the site, the paper said.

View of the Israeli nuclear reactor located in the Sorek valley in the Judean hills. Israel maintains two nuclear reactors, one in Nahal Sorek, and the other is the Negev Nuclear Research Center near Dimona. ( Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)
The Israeli nuclear reactor located in the Sorek valley in the Judean hills. Israel maintains two nuclear reactors, one in Nahal Sorek, and the other in the Negev Nuclear Research Center near Dimona. (Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)

When US diplomatic cables were leaked to the public as part of the WikiLeaks scandal, a telegram by the US Embassy revealed that in 2007 Prof. Eli Abramov, then deputy director general of the reactor, briefed senior Americans and told them the reactor’s systems were being changed.

But, according to Abramov, the core cannot be replaced as a solitary unit, and so a whole new facility must be built in order to accommodate a new one.

View of the Israeli nuclear reactor located in the Sorek valley in the Judean hills. Israel maintains two nuclear reactors, one in Nahal Sorek, and the other is the Negev Nuclear Research Center near Dimona. (Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)
View of the Israeli nuclear reactor located in the Sorek valley in the Judean hills. Israel maintains two nuclear reactors, one in Nahal Sorek, and the other is the Negev Nuclear Research Center near Dimona. (Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)

Israel is one of four UN member states which have never signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons — the three others being South Sudan, Pakistan and India — and is therefore not subject to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s rules and regulations.

Nevertheless, Israel has opted to voluntarily follow the IAEA’s safety regulations, according to the report. An independent commission monitoring the reactor reports directly to the prime minister.

Only once has the commission revoked the operating license of a reactor for safety issues, according to Haaretz.

In light of the delicate state of the nuclear core, the reactor is not operated as often as it used to be, the report said.

Chernobyl nuclear plant workers in uniform attend a ceremony to commemorate victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster at the memorial to Chernobyl workers and firefighters in the town of Slavutych, Ukraine, early Tuesday, April 26, 2016. Ukraine was marking the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, when the 4th unit of the plant exploded early hours April 26, 1986. The city of Slavutych was built following the evacuation of Pripyat, the town of the Chernobyl plant workers, which was just 1.5 kilometers (about one mile) away from the plant. Some 50,000 Pripyat residents were evacuated after the disaster, taking only a few belongings. They never returned, and workers and their families now live in Slavutych. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
Chernobyl nuclear plant workers in uniform attend a ceremony to commemorate victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster at the memorial to Chernobyl workers and firefighters in the town of Slavutych, Ukraine, early Tuesday, April 26, 2016. Ukraine was marking the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, when the 4th unit of the plant exploded early hours April 26, 1986. The city of Slavutych was built following the evacuation of Pripyat, the town of the Chernobyl plant workers, which was just 1.5 kilometers (about one mile) away from the plant. Some 50,000 Pripyat residents were evacuated after the disaster, taking only a few belongings. They never returned, and workers and their families now live in Slavutych. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
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